How many women in farming do you know? Of these, how many hold a managing role? Do they own their land?
Are you a woman working in agriculture? Or do you work alongside one?
Women in farming
When it comes to farm labour internationally, women are actually well represented—perhaps even over-represented. Women in farming account for 43% of agricultural work internationally. This number is thought to be higher in developing countries—up to 80% in Sub-Saharan Africa. No doubt about it, farming is hard work, and women are doing their share.
So we’re doing all right, right?
Consider that the number of female operators on American farms nearly tripled from 1978 to 2007. But this figure means that the percentage climbed from 5% to a mere 14%. Part of this growth was even because the USDA began to better count small-scale producers. (Canada’s number is quite a bit higher at 27%. Current percentages in the US have been reported at 30%.)
It actually seems that women are, in part, simply attracted to grassroots operations. The interesting (if controversial) article Why Agriculture Needs More Women points out the shortage of women executives in agribusiness. But, what is this really saying about women’s role in farming? While it is a dismal fact of modern food production, factory farming is not as ethical or healthy as small and conscientious operations.
Real women, real work
Think back to those female farmer friends of yours. Are they working towards a career at a large food business? Do they farm thousands of acres of mono-crops or work in feedlots? Or are they growing food they can feel good about for customers they care about?
In my experience, women farm because they desire a sense of connection and freedom. I, myself, garden and go to market. This work helps me to achieve the life I want. The flexibility is a complement to my role as a mom. I gain a lot of fulfillment by working in a way that I feel betters the world and my own community. I also find endless opportunity for personal growth and learning through farming.
What we stand to gain
Farming practices, education, and food accessibility also have a deep impact on the lives of women around the globe. A mother’s body supports and nourishes her child from conception through the breastfeeding years. Nutrition is of the utmost importance in allowing a child to thrive. A mother is also most likely to sacrifice her own food needs to offer more for her family in desperate times.
While these facts apply to marginalized populations, they still speak to the key role of food production to the female demographic.
To a woman in a developed country, food and nutrition are still integral and basic aspects of life. We ladies are often responsible for making sure healthy meals make it onto the family table.
In Canada, 64% women reported that they prepare most of the meals in their home, compared to only 19% of their male counterparts. In the US women make 93% of all food purchases. The disparity is even greater in the developing world with women and girls working 12 to 13 hours more than males each week.
What we want—what we need
Agriculture is changing. Consumers want to know where their produce is coming from and if it was grown or raised ethically. There is a new-found emphasis on farm to table eating. I believe that society is creating a desire for more simple lifestyles that are possible through small farms and rural life.
Fact: Women are already producing food. Given their tendency towards small, local, and sustainable farming, it seems only sensible to increase the role they play in the dialogue on food production.
We can do the work. We will do the work. And we will make sure we are farming to the best of our abilities. We should carry on, using our beliefs and skills to produce this most basic of needs in a way that is sustainable and will flourish.
As women in farming we need to continue to be involved—to increase our presence as producers, and our voice as consumers. For our families, our world, and ourselves, we have a responsibility to grow our voice in agriculture.
Facts & Figures: Rural Women and the Millennium Development Goals – UN Woman Watch
Women in Agriculture – Global Agriculture
A Look at Food Skills in Canada – Health Canada
Purchasing Power of Women – FONA International
Old McDonald Might be a Lady: More Women Take Up Farming – NPR: The Salt
Urban Farms: The New Frontier for Female Farmers – Modern Farmer
How Women Farmers are Changing U.S. Agriculture – Civil Eats
Why Agriculture Needs More Women: A Psychological Case for Safer Food and More Humane Farming – The Atlantic
Women and Hunger: 10 Facts – World Food Programme