Gender and International Relations in the classroom and in the field: Female farmers at San Antonio del Prado

One of the courses I teach at the Dept. of Political Science at the National University of Colombia in Medellin is International Relations. I’ve structured the course as an Introduction to International Relations since students are enrolled in the Political Science program. In this introductory course, I make sure that my students read some topics on gender.

This semester (in Colombia, the semester usually runs from February to late May), aside from the main theories in IR, I included a workshop on gender and international relations. The purpose of the workshop was to look at a program for women carried out by the Secretary for Women in Medellin. Some of the programs carried out by the Secretary for Women adhere to international agreements signed by the Colombian national government for gender equality. Because Colombia is decentralized, local governments are relatively autonomous regarding how they implement gender equality programs. I thought it would be interesting that my students -and future political scientists- explored these municipal programs for gender equality. What is working? What isn’t and why? What is the impact?

On April 20, 2018, we visited a program aimed at empowering female farmers in the municipality of Medellin. Interestingly, 70 percent of Medellin’s land use is rural (30 percent is urban). Along with civil servants from the Secretary for Women, we visited two greenhouses headed by female farmers in San Antonio del Prado, which is part of Medellin’s municipality and considered rural. At the ‘finca’ (or farm), we heard the staff of the Secretary for Women and then we heard two female community leaders and farmers, who also ran the greenhouses. They shared their experiences with the program of female empowerment.

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(Political Science students of the UNAL listening to rural community leader and farmer “Carmen” from San Antonio del Prado -far left-, Medellin Municipality. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).

The program from the municipality had certainly improved their lives economically. In the sense that they had become economically independent, or had learned to administer their income (which was new to them). However, they faced various obstacles.

One obstacle was the difficulty to sell their products in the city. Doing this required obtaining very expensive registers which they could not pay. What they did was sell in alternative markets known as “mercados campesinos” (farmers markets), in the city.

Another obstacle was buying seeds to grow in their greenhouses. Many peasants in Colombia are forced to buy seeds sold by multinationals such as Monsanto or Bayer in order to grow their crops. As anthropologist Laura Escobar Gutiérrez explains in her article “Seeds of Struggle“, this is because of the Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with United States which requires Colombia to “join the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) of 1991, a system that restricts farmers’ rights to use the seeds they grow”. As “Carmen”, one of the rural farmers at San Antonio del Prado explained, the seeds are very expensive and are impossible to buy.

Despite these restrictions, “Carmen” and the other female farmers do not give up.  Female farmers and their families continue working on the greenhouse project.

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(“Carmen” -below left- and Political Science students of the UNAL, showing us one of the greenhouses at San Antonio del Prado. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).

Rapid urbanization was another problem that worried both the Secretary for Women and the rural communities. Despite being predominantly rural, San Antonio del Prado has been undergoing urbanization. Rural land is now being destined for urban purposes. Furthermore, these urban projects (for instance, multifamily housing projects) are impacting the rural communities in negative ways. One problem is the access to water. Farmers need water to grow their crops. Yet, as “Carmen” explained, San Antonio del Prado’s water is being redirected to provide water to the housing projects.

Even though female farmers at San Antonio del Prado felt they had benefited from the Secretary for Women’s programs aimed at empowering female rural farmers, free trade agreements and rapid urbanization are limiting the empowerment of female farmers and, in general, rural communities in Colombia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Gender and International Relations in the classroom and in the field: Female farmers at San Antonio del Prado

  1. Dear Lirio, thanks for sharing! This.is a very important article, specially for those living abroad and working agricultural sciences. Do you know what seeds do they grow and how many square meters Greenhouse do they farm? Felicidades, adelante!

    Like

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