On the occasion of the International Women’s Days we avail this opportunity to share a testimonial of Catarina Galfarro, who, in 1962 witness the 8 hours fight of women in a rice field in Alcácer do Sal (Alentejo region).

My heroines: The mondinas against work from dawn to dusk

It was a beautiful morning of sunshine early May of 1962, at the rice fields of Gachinha farm, Alcácer do Sal, between the irrigation canal and the stream of Sítimos, very near of Pocinho de Sal. A group of women got up at 5 a.m. and walked about 2 hours until the working field, the water in the rice field was still cold. They were about 30 women, some married, others widows and some still in their teenagers, a group of women from 12 to 60 years old.

As they were arriving they left the food in the bonfire dug in into the ground near the woman responsible for the cooking.

Men? Only the foreman.

At dawn the foreman commands: “Oh, women irrigate”.

One of them, Ilda, talked: “No, no, today we only start at 8 a.m., when the siren at Barrosinha sounds. Whoever comes, we do not irrigate. We don’t say a thing”.

They knew nothing about political parties, unions, strikes or fascism.

But they knew that Police, Political Police, firing, angry bosses could appear.

And they knew the price for having their back downwards to pick the weeds or plant the rice with their feet in the water and mud, to earn 16 to 20 escudos for 10 to 12 daily working hours.

The foreman insisted: “Women, irrigate!”.

The group didn’t move, each one, without speaking, were controlling their own fear and anxiety.

The option was clear: to win right there their right to only work 8 hours a day, to return home with day light. To clean the house and cook, to look after the children, to strengths up for the following day.

The siren sounded at Barrosinha.

The women took off their shoes and stepped into the field. For the first time in their lives they started to work at 8 a.m.

Of course the mounted police arrived, with guns and rifles, the fear was there but they showed no weakness or hesitation: “this is not a strike. We are working. We only want the same timetable as the workers at Barrosinha: 8 working hours per day” said one of them.

They stopped to lunch at 12 p.m. and one hour later, after better or worse feed, they returned to work. At 5 p.m. they returned home or shed made of reeds or wood, closer or farther from the working fields.

Fearing the worse, but determined, in the next morning: “We only start irrigating at 8 a.m.”.

And it went on, the bosses got angry, intimidated, the police threated, and they nothing!

Without arguing or shouting, only a cold determination as the water of the fields.

And they won a century old servitude, the police, the bosses … and the fear.

Catarina Galfarro

* Gachinha – Homestead near Alcácer do Sal

** Stove – Floor fire where food was cooked in clay pots

*** Coca – In charge of looking through the pots

**** Barrosinha – A farm with industry and workshops, where the workers started to work upon the sound of a siren at 8 a.m

***** Whilst the workers from the industry and commerce had conquered the 8 hour working day in May 1919, only in 1962 the rural workers managed to win that right.