Since 2007, the United Nations declared that every October 15 is a day to remember the essential role of rural women. The day honors women who sow the land, take care of their homes and fight for their communities’ food security. In addition, they face daily challenges to achieve inclusion, eradicate poverty, seek empowerment and education in a world that has often closed its doors to them.
EARTH University recognizes the effort made by many students and graduates to become professionals and return to their countries, full of knowledge, tools, and personal growth. They strive to generate positive change that starts from the roots. EARTH rural women have been – and will continue to be – an example to hundreds of girls and young women worldwide.
What are their lives like, and what challenges did they face before coming to our University?
A rural woman from Ghana
Anatu Borewah Anita Kotochi (Class of 2021), a Mastercard Foundation Fellow, loves being in nature. She says she cannot imagine an office job, as it is fundamental to feel the color green in her skin, her eyes, and her life in general. So, she decided to study agronomy.
She grew up with her grandmother but saw her farmer parents work the land, wait patiently for the rain, consume and market their own produce. She also grew up watching many women work in the fields, carrying their youngest children on their backs, and involving older children in daily activities, like collecting firewood or carrying water.
Although the women in her community are essential to agriculture, Anita and many others have faced the same challenges: achieving autonomy, social inclusion, and respect.
“I had a hard time getting my family to accept that I wanted to go into farming. My dad couldn’t understand it; he thought it wasn’t a career for women. Little by little, my family has seen my professional development and what I can do for the community, and now they support me and are proud of me. It has been a change for everyone. We have removed the stigma. I believe that education is essential to change peoples mindset, and I feel a responsibility to be an example. We cannot do anything without agriculture; we depend on it. I want everyone in my country to understand this and for more women to be educated like me,” she said.
A few weeks ago, Anita returned to the Guácimo Campus after completing her three-month internship in Ghana where she was in charge of creating a community mandala garden. She is soon to graduate and dreams of returning to her country and have her own farm, where other women can learn more about agronomy and make the most of their resources to implement sustainable agriculture and create new income sources.
A rural woman from Mexico
María de Dolores Jiménez Méndez (Class of 2024) comes from a small, rural community in Campeche, Mexico. She remembers working since the age of six with her parents in the fields where they grew crops such as corn, tomatoes, and beans, her family’s only source of income.
In her village, many women work the land and then sell their crops in the markets. Although wishing to do the same, others must conform to the will of their partners due to cultural issues and tradition, a tradition that Maria was willing to break from a very young age.
“I decided to continue studying because I don’t like to obey, to be told no, have my wings clipped, or depend on a man. For as long as I can remember, I have told my mom that she can be an independent woman, and over time, she has been. My mother has contributed a lot to the work we do in the fields. She and I would often get up at 4:00 in the morning to take the first bus to our farm. We walked 10 kilometers a day and, although the fatigue can be terrible, we did the work on our own. She still does it: she gets up early, walks, plants, harvests, and takes care of us,” she said.
Although Maria is just in her first year at EARTH, she can already feel the change. She can see how she is beginning to gather tools to empower other rural women. She believes with conviction that if she was able to change her family’s mindset, she could do the same with other women who also face systematic violence, often rooted in culture, that does not allow their professional, economic, and personal development.
A rural woman from Saint Kitts and Nevis
Fazeena Persaud (Class of 2023) was born in Guyana but grew up in Saint Kitts and Nevis. It’s the smallest country in the Americas, full of white sand beaches and places that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, were visited daily by hundreds of tourists. Although the country’s main economic activity is based on tourism, Fazeena comes from a family of farmers. Her parents grow and harvest crops like lettuce, potatoes, bananas, and mangoes. They also have chickens and rabbits. From there comes her love for animals and nature.
Fazeena remembers that when she was in high school, a teacher asked in a class: tell me any food that can be produced without agriculture? Neither she nor her fellow students found an answer. From that moment, she knew she wanted to pursue agronomy.
“That question made me think about everything we do and can do, thanks to agriculture. The main source of work in my country is tourism, but I believe we can produce more of the food we eat. With the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism fell, and we realized that we need other forms of food security. So when I graduate from EARTH, I want to go home and work on projects that drive agricultural development because we have the potential to produce more and do it sustainably,” said Fazeena.
She also had to face cultural stigmas to break them and continue on her professional path. According to her, many people think that farming is synonymous of a lack of education and poverty. She also says that in her country, women are expected to pursue business-related careers. But she sees something else in what she chose for herself. In her eyes, agronomy is an opportunity to create jobs, promote economic and sustainable development in the region, and work with government organizations to boost food security and sovereignty.
Like Anita, María, and Fazeena, the women who pass through our institution become a seed of hope to generate a global social, sustainable, and economic transformation.
Today, October 15, we celebrate all the women who, like them, proudly represent the rural lands they come from.