By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of female farmers in Brazil occupied rural government offices on Wednesday in protest against austerity plans which they say disproportionately impact poor women.
Protesters who marched across several cities on International Women's Day said pension reforms and other changes to social security will make it harder for family farmers to stay on the land.
Brazilian officials say the changes, including raising the minimum retirement age for rural workers to 65 years and higher pension contributions, are crucial for South America's largest country to escape a fiscal crisis and recession.
"Rural workers live on the margins," said Sejane Alexandre, a protester in Tocantins State in central Brazil's agricultural belt.
"The rural worker does not have the same longevity and access to healthcare (as urban employees)," she said, according to local media.
In Recife, on Brazil's northeastern coast, around 1,000 female land rights activists occupied the government's social security office, the Pastoral Land Commission campaign group said in a statement.
Officials from Brazil's social security ministry known locally as the INSS, which was targeted by protesters, were not immediately available for comment.
Farmers say they should be able to retire at a younger age than other workers because they are engaged in hard manual labor that feeds the urban population.
About seventy percent of the food consumed by Brazilians is produced by family farmers, according to the United Nations, but small producers often complain about unequal land distribution and poor government services in rural areas.
Government officials say pension reforms and other changes are necessary to tackle the country's budget deficit and improve fiscal sustainability in South America's largest country.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Astrid Zweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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