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Celebrating our Journey 2009-2019


This publication is a brief history of the Rural Women’s Assembly in Southern Africa (RWA), a snapshot, nothing more. The publication was written to capture years in the life of a movement as the Rural Women’s Assembly gathers to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This is not a simple task in that its difficult to reflect in a few papers the life of an exciting movement of rural women. Moreover, written text in English, cannot sufficiently tell the stories of thousands of rural women who have come to embody the Rural Women’s Assembly. Nor does it adequately convey the vibrancy, the struggles, the tenacity and the passion of the women who have contributed to build and sustain the Rural Women’s Assembly.

Ten years of existence is a relatively short moment in the life of any organisation, yet in the past decade in Southern Africa, poor rural women, have lived through the harsh realities of a neo-liberal global fallout. The RWA was founded in the shadows of the global fi nancial crisis, the HIV-Aids pandemic, intensifi cation of the extractive model of development, agri-business take-overs, destructions of the food systems and growing deindustrialisation of the Southern African region. It is the poor that have to deal daily with the consequences of these realities.

These conditions have led to a growing migration in the region as thousands of young people, who are both unemployed and underemployed, leave their homes in the rural villages and towns in search of livelihoods, safety and a life out of poverty. These dramatic changes have a very direct impact on rural women, their land and on the commons. While rural women, like women everywhere have experienced more violence in the home they also face the mounting structural violence of the free market and transnational capital. Structural adjustment policies (by whatever euphemism they are disguised as), trade and investment agreements, dispossess. The subjugation of Southern Africa for private capital is the source of the land and water grabs, the undermining of food sovereignty, of the emergency of the impacts of climate change and the collapse of the state and the nondelivery of basic services.

The members of the RWA resist neo-liberalism daily but RWA is also a movement that develops concrete alternatives that give expression to our slogan: “we are the guardians of land, life, seeds and love.” Over the years hundreds of RWA members have saved a large variety of traditional seeds and have been innovative in the promotion and implementation of agro-ecology and all the related strategies that can protect them against the devastation of an intensifying climate emergency – whether in the form of drought, floods and storms.

RWA has put the building of a feminist consciousness at the centre of its intervention. This is not an easy task for rural women subject to patriarchal power, culture and social relations. Nevertheless, every day we become stronger, more resilient and more conscious. The process is unfolding; and though the RWA does not proclaim itself as a feminist movement, it’s a movement of women that is challenging power in all its manifestations. Whenever we meet, locally nationally or across the region we experience our sisterhood.

Lastly, the movement owes a great thanks for its achievements to the Trust for Community Outreach and Education(TCOE) and all its staff for the partnership, hosting the RWA and friendship over the past decade. But there are many others: RWA has to thank NASFAM (National Small-scale farmers of Malawi), UNAC in Mozambique; Women and Land in Zimbabwe and also NNFU (Namibia National Farmers Union) for supporting and assisting the RWA in these countries to grow and develop its independence.

The RWA has grown because of the strong Reference Group which is made up of the leaders of the partner countries! We also thank the wonderful team of feminist activists from the Rita Edwards Collective who have journeyed with us and have given their time
to RWA so generously.

Thank you all the sisters.

Mercia Andrews
November 2019.

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