Maggie Mellon from WFI National Committee explains that women and land have always been connected.
For me it is as simple as:
Women hold up half the sky. We also stand on half the land.
We need land to build houses, land to grow food, land to roam about in and enjoy, land to have holiday huts, and coastlines where we can keep boats and go off on the rivers and sea. We need land for children to play, land to create and carry out enterprises and businesses,
The land should be ours but, as Andy Wightman wrote, ‘the poor had no lawyers’ and therefore the land was taken from us and is now mostly in private and often secret ownership. So land reform at its best is about getting back ownership and control. However the Bill before Parliament is much milder than that – but needs to be supported and strengthened. It is important that the lobbying of rich landowners does not derail the reforms offered.
There is good evidence that in pre- industrial, pre-capitalist society women were the main agriculturalists. Engels (showing my political roots here) theorised that women’s childbearing and rearing of children meant that, unlike men, we did not go off hunting and stravaiging about the place - we were physically tied to one place. Therefore it was mainly women who were responsible for looking after home and hearth and food growing,and responsible for a step forward away in the development of community and of scientific knowledge.
It is recorded (Johnstone’s History of the Scottish Working Class) that when the Sheriff Officers came to clear the crofts and villages it was the women who stood against them defending their homes, while the men looked on from behind cover in the hills. This was probably because men were more likely to be shot for resisting but it still points to the close ties between women, households and land.
The persecution of witches in the 16th 17th and 18th centuries could be seen as direct attacks on the knowledge and power of women in relation to the use of plants for healing and curing, (and of mind altering substances which created the illusion of flying).
The Scottish Witchchraft act of 1563 made witchcraft or consulting with witches a capital offence. This was replaced by a UK wide act in 1735 which made pretending to be a pretending to be a witch the offence as by that time belief in such powers had wained.
And so the loss of our land relates to a loss of women’s knowledge and power too.
Now of course we need the land just as much, and it is our land, and women have an enormous role to play in reclaiming it – not to recreate the conditions of the 15th Century but to build an enlightened society based on equality and common ownership.