Peasant women between oilpalms and bananas : Coto Sur, Costa Rica.
Coto Sur on the Costa Rican’ Pacific coast had, for about fifty years been dominated by banana plantations, owned and run by the United Fruit Co, when they withdrew and closed the plantation in the first half of the 1970s. Former banana workers and landless peasants invaded the decayed banana plantations and the state Land Development Agency (IDA) got involved in a tremendous a rural reform process establishing a 28.000 hectares agricultural settlement with 1500 individual farms from 1975 onwards. A development project for peasant women employing WID/GAD perspectives was initiated in this settlement in the 1980s in order to rectify the fact that women had been almost invisible in this process. A part of this project was dedicated to research aimed at reaching a better basis for interpreting the women’s needs and perspectives, such as women’s contributions to productive activities, and access to land. In this dissertation some of these research questions, such as women’s work burdens, division of labour, power relations in the farming household and women’s participation in society, have been addressed and carried out by collecting life-stories, interviews, participation in meetings, etc. It became evident that the massive structural changes taking place in this region would have to be included in an analysis, asking what happened to women in this transformation process. The later planting of oil palms replacing basic grains, was being organised through a gigantic project financed by the Costa Rican state and the Inter- American Development Bank in the early 1990s. The overwhelming representations of this process, in plans and documents, were about ‘progress’ and former banana workers. Women were again invisible. A substantial amount of documents have therefore been analysed: how concepts as ‘the farming family’ and ‘peasant women’ were interpreted, what assumptions that seemed to lie behind, and how women, and gender, have been represented, thus dialoguing between structural, material changes and everyday experiences lie at the bottom of this analysis. Some main analytical issues were how: to understand gender in (former) banana plantations (enclaves); consider gendering restructuration of geographical areas; as well as looking closer at the lack of attention to gender issues in the huge palm conversion process, backed by, at least in theory, gender-aware institutions, such as the Costa Rican government and the Inter- American Development Bank. My conclusion is that it was politically and ideologically so important to keep up the ex-banana worker, breadwinner (and ‘farming family’) image that women had to be kept invisible, as ‘family’.
ForlagUniversitetet i Tromsø
University of Tromsø
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