International Day of Rural Women is observed on October 15th every year, a day that brings to the forefront rural women’s important yet uncelebrated role in development – from being caregivers in families, guardians of indigenous knowledge, and workers in agriculture.
“Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making power and political participation in rural households and communities. Women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and health care, and infrastructure, including water and sanitation, while much of their labour remains invisible and unpaid, even as their workloads become increasingly heavy due to the out-migration of men. Globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data are available reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women, and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion and the effects of climate change.” – United Nations
This International Day of Rural Women, we would like to share the stories of four Orang Asli (indigenous) women – Diyana, Sabiah, Norisah, and Surayati – to highlight the burden that these women carry and the sacrifices they make for the sake of their children and community.
Norisah and Surayati: We Want a Peaceful Village
Norisah and her daughter, Surayati, moved away from their brick house in an RPS community (government regrouping plan) to live in a village where there’s no piped water nor electricity. What they really want is to farm – to grow enough food to feed their family, to make enough to survive, and to live in a peaceful community.
The bulk of their produce is lemongrass and they plant up to three variants. Every morning, they would walk to the well and fill up pails of water. Norisah and Surayati would carry two buckets each and walk down the rows of lemongrass to water them.
In between, they would remove weeds, inspect the plants for disease, and add fertiliser when needed. It’s backbreaking work but for this mother-daughter pair, it’s their way of life.
“We sell our lemongrass for around RM1.60 per kg. Sometimes we can’t sell all of our produce and we have to watch as the fruits of our labour goes to rot,” laments Norisah. “I’m not used to living in the RPS. Life may be much harder here but we are Asli, it’s in our blood to farm, to live free, and to be close to the forest. It’s what we know.”