It’s 2023 and we’re still talking about the need for gender equality. Women are still marginalized. They have no control over their body autonomy, which is mostly still dictated by male lawmakers or male-dominated religions; they rarely appear in leadership roles compared to men; and they tend to be paid less than their male counterparts, even when they are more qualified.
There are more men in the agriculture industry because of the belief that being a farmer or fisher is hard work that requires male strength, and also because men tend to control food systems. Leaving women out of the food security equation is a huge error, one that the world continually pays for the longer this isn’t rectified.
In a time where mechanization has made many jobs easy, the strength factor does not hold water anymore. And in developing communities, non-government organization workers often talk about the importance of supporting women in marginalized societies because this is the surest way to ensure that the benefits reaped really do return to their family and immediate communities.
A woman who is given agency is someone who will ensure that her children are properly fed and educated. Women are often the invisible backbones of communities, especially marginalized ones. Their physical and emotional labors often go unnoticed because they are thought of as part and parcel of “being feminine” when in fact, such pressures can be the cause of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression (access to mental health professionals or even acknowledgement of the existence of mental illnesses is another matter altogether). When educated, most women will teach her children and the children of the community. When given money, most women will spend it on their children first, increasing the chances of better opportunities for the next generation. Anecdotal evidence amongst microlenders also say that women are more inclined to pay back loans.
Given the opportunity, many mothers will find a way to add to their husband’s income to increase the family’s chances of a comfortable life. Single mothers often work as hard, or even harder than a double income household to ensure that their children do not lack for anything. Even single women are often called on to help with the community, something that is (unfairly) not required of men.
In the agriculture industry, women farmers are appreciated for their industriousness and attention to detail. They are less likely to cut corners and are more open to trying new techniques and processes. Used to waiting, they are more inclined than men to work towards something long term. For example, there is a thrust in the coffee industry to pick only red cherries instead of stripping both red and green from the branch. This is a tedious process that needs to be done by hand. I’ve been told that women take time out to really pick just red cherries, understanding that a little discomfort in that moment will lead to greater yields in the future when they are able to sell their harvest as premium coffee at a higher cost.
I heard, also from someone in the coffee industry, that it’s easier to encourage women to try farming, even though the returns aren’t instant, because they are more willing to work hard towards a chance at a better future.
Despite these, women farmers remain held back by gender roles, unfair wages, lack of rights (land, human, and so on), and lack of security. Disregarding the role of women in agriculture and discouraging their current and future involvement is doing a disservice not just to women, but to everyone in the community. The field of agriculture is already precarious, with less and less people wanting to engage in it every year. By withholding equity and equality from women at all levels in the industry, we lessen our chances to achieve food security. In a world where climate and environmental crises steadily encroach, this is something we cannot afford.