“I belong to no one, only to myself. I’ve learned to fight for my own rights and for the rights of the women who surround me,” said María Marta Henríquez, who was among the 250 women who recently attended the Second Congress of Rural Women in El Salvador.
Organized by the Alliance for the Defense of Rural Women’s Rights and Oxfam’s GROW campaign, the San Salvador event was an opportunity for women like Henríquez, a mother and small farmer, to present their demands to members of the National Assembly and government officials.
What Henríquez is fighting for is good and healthy food for her and her family, and a sustainable way of producing it.
“If I have food security, I have it all: a variety of healthy food, land, physical health—my children and grandchildren won’t fall sick because they eat healthy— and education,” said Henríquez. “To me, sovereignty is the guarantee we have to food security [and to] be the owners of our land, our lives.”
Thanks to the training she has received from different institutions, Henríquez now knows how to make organic fertilizer, conserve soil, and work with bees to make honey.
She also benefits from a government program that provides the poorest families with about 100 pounds of fertilizer and two pounds corn seeds. But from Henríquez’ point of view, that doesn’t add up to food security, because when the program ends, the situation will be the same as before. What rural women need, she said, are native seeds which will guarantee sustainability by not only producing crops, but a new round of seeds for planting the following season.
Seed variety isn’t her only worry. Small farmers like Henríquez also face severe challenges from increasingly unpredictable weather.
“This year we lost our crops because of the drought. Last year we lost the whole bean crop because of Tropical Depression 12E,” said Henríquez. That storm dumped five feet of rain in nine days. “I took a loan to invest again, and when this (the drought) happened, I was crying because I didn’t know how to pay back the loan. Thank God the bank came to study my case and canceled my loan.”
Despite the hurdles she and her fellow rural farmers are confronting, Henríquez is confident that all the work they do as part of Alliance for the Defense of Rural Women’s Rights will bear fruit.
“If we go back to using native seeds, we can produce more and more permanently,” she said.” If we have irrigation systems to store water for the dry season, if we have access to information to what is happening in our country—economy, education, health—access to knowledge about soil conservation and how to conserve the environment, than we will have everything we’re all longing for: a dignified live and health.”
Henríquez speaks with the authority of an empowered and independent woman. She is convinced that by speaking out and engaging in the fight for women’s rights, change will come.
“Even if I don’t get to see the changes I’m fighting for, others will, and that gives me great satisfaction,” she said.