By Luis Felipe Cruz Olivera, Teresa Garcia Castro, Kathryn Ledebur, and Isabel Pereira
In Latin America, the lives of women who grow plants destined for illicit markets are marked by several forms of discrimination: because they are women, because they are rural farmers, and because their livelihood depends on an activity that has been declared illegal. The so-called “war on drugs” and the marginalization of rural life have erected walls behind which the role of women as agents of social transformation is hidden and rendered invisible. Beyond the numerous challenges they face, women growers of coca and opium poppy have played a critical role in sustaining and improving rural livelihoods, caring for families, in community organization, and in social movements. From their fight to assert the rights of coca-grower movements in Bolivia to their contribution to peace building in Colombia, women growers have been crucial agents of change in their communities. Their active participation—whether in farmer organizations, assemblies, agrarian unions, or other collectives—has given them new tools and knowledge for interacting with government entities and achieving important local objectives. Women coca or poppy growers not only build knowledge and capacities in their territories; they also contribute on a daily basis to the transformation and improvement of their realities, and that of their families and villages. Given the silence and dearth of information regarding the role of women in community life in areas where crops declared illicit are grown, this report explores who these women growers are, their socioeconomic contexts, their involvement in the production of crops destined for illicit markets, their organizing experiences, and their participation in decisionmaking processes—taking into account case studies from Bolivia and Colombia. Furthermore, the report presents recommendations focused on ensuring the participation of women growers in political and public life at all levels of decision-making.