Journal of South Asia Women Studies

The Peasant Women's Movement in the Philippines: Alternative Perspectives on Development

by Ligaya Lindio-McGovern

This paper examines the alternative views on development that the peasant women's movement in the Philippines is forging. My main focus is on AMIHAN, the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines, and one of its local chapters in Mindoro, KAMMI (Kababaihang Magbubukid ng Mindoro, translated as Peasant Women of Mindoro).1 It is appropriate to focus on AMIHAN for two reasons: (1) it is the national non-governmental organization that leads the peasant women's movement in the Philippines, and (2) it advocates for development policies that offer alternatives to what are currently legitimized by the Philippine government. It is important to examine AMIHAN's alternative views on development because they can provide insights on rethinking about some of the mainstream paradigms on women and development in the Third World. As well these views will recast a stereotyped acquiescent image of Asian peasant women to one that is resilient to exploitation. Likewise, their views on development dispel the notion that there are no alternatives to development policies currently promoted by the conservative government. I gathered the data presented in this paper during my fieldwork in the Philippines in the Summers of 1989 and 1996. I interviewed a total of 39 Filipino peasant women: 35 were members of KAMMI and four were national leaders of AMIHAN. I also participated in, observed, and took down field notes about their activities, as well as gathered and content analyzed their organizational documents. To have a direct experience of the village life of the peasant women of KAMMI, I stayed in Mindoro and visited the villages of some of the peasant women. I spent some nights in some of their homes. I did most of the interviews and observations during the 1989 fieldwork. In 1996 I went back to the Philippines in order to observe first hand new developments there. I revisited KAMMI in Mindoro and AMIHAN in MetroManila. I talked to a few of the members of KAMMI whom I met in 1989 and some new ones I had not met before. I revisited a couple of their villages where I stayed in 1989 and went to other areas I have not been before. I visited the national office of AMIHAN in Quezon City and talked to key informants who could update me on AMIHAN. Some of my visits to AMIHAN office allowed me to talk to some new organizers who were organizing in other rural areas of the Philippines where AMIHAN has chapters. AMIHAN was formally launched in 1986 to organize peasant women on the national level and to advocate for agrarian reforms that will respond to the particular situation of peasant women. Before AMIHAN was formed, there was already an existing militant peasant movement led by KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas - Peasant Movement in the Philippines). AMIHAN saw that a separate peasant women's organization will make peasant women and their particular situation more visible in the broader peasants' movement, national liberation movement, and the women's movement. AMIHAN's overall goal is to work toward the empowerment of peasant women through organization and by collectively advocating for alternative development policies and strategies that will respond to their particular situation as peasants and as women. In this paper, I will focus on the following themes in AMIHAN's views on development: a) peasant women and land reform, b) peasant women, usury and control of traders, c) peasant women, foreign debt, the International Monetary Fund, and GATT (General Agreement on Tariff and Trade), and d) empowerment not integration into an exploitative nature of Philippine development.2

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