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Women in agriculture say barriers to equality persist

A 17-country study conducted by Corteva Agriscience shows most respondents report progress toward gender equality, but cite key actions needed to remove obstacles for full participation in agriculture

Women farmers worldwide say they’re making progress when it comes to achieving gender equality, but they also don’t expect full equality to come any time soon.

In fact, it could be decades away, with widespread gender discrimination persisting that also poses obstacles to their ability to help feed the world, respondents told the Global Women in Agriculture, study, done over five continents and released by Corteva Agriscience, agricultural division of DowDuPont.

The study, commissioned across 17 countries in both the developed and developing world, asked 4,157 women to identify the barriers to their full and successful participation in agriculture.

Why it matters: Women’s full participation in agriculture will provide leadership and diverse perspectives the industry needs for its profitability and competitiveness.

Responses came from both those whose farms ranged from small subsistence operations to those with 300 employees or more, and those surveyed included farm owners and managers, employees and workers.

“We conducted this study to further understand the current status of women farmers around the world, from the largest farms in the most advanced economies to the smallest subsistence farms in the developing world, and to create a baseline from which we can measure progress going forward,” said Krysta Harden, vice-president external affairs and chief sustainability officer of Corteva Agriscience when the study was released in the fall.

How women describe their financial circumstances varied on where they were in the world, but together they tell a consistent story: earning a livelihood from farming is a struggle.

A large percentage of participants — 38 per cent — said their income from farming is insufficient to meet their family’s needs.

In Nigeria and Kenya 42 per cent of the women surveyed said so. So did 37 per cent of American women and 24 per cent of Canadian women.

The study did not attempt to determine poverty levels of respondents, nor address whether the women were able to fill the income gap by other means, but ‘financial stability’ was listed second only to ‘my family’ when women were asked to list their concerns.

The three key barriers identified were earning less than their male counterparts (37 per cent), and nearly as many (36 per cent) saying they had less access to financing than men.

And while regionally, Latin American, Asian and European women were most likely to report the third barrier, gender discrimination, 61 per cent of Canadian women agreed with the statement that “gender discrimination is an issue in the agriculture industry.”

It is defined as the belief that one gender is treated less well than the other, and reflected in different payment for the same good or services, different career or job opportunities, and different financial opportunities.

Most surveyed throughout the world also said it will take at least a decade, or more to eradicate gender discrimination.

The survey identified five key actions toward reaching that goal, including better access to training in agricultural technology and land management, improved access to higher (academic) education, protection and support for women experiencing gender discrimination, plus interventions that improve women’s work and life balance, and raise awareness of successful women in agriculture.

Iris Meck, president of Calgary-based Iris Meck Communications, host of the Advancing Women conferences, says she sees progress being made in Canada even if the gender gap has not closed. Women are much better recognized now for the contributions they make in agriculture, as evident in many more news articles about women in the business, and more advertising directed at the industry depicting women, she said.

“I think we’ve made great strides in the agricultural sector to profile more women and get women involved,” she said. “In Canada there has been movement of the needle. But perhaps the needle just hasn’t moved far enough to close that gap.”

In the future, women will need to be prepared to seize opportunities and recognize their own capabilities and potential, she said.

“I think far too often women underestimate what their capabilities are.”

Research shows Canadian women do remain under-represented in key roles in the industry. According to the Supporting the Advancement of Women in Agriculture (SAWA) survey of 2015, just 25 per cent of all agricultural managers were female and only 12 per cent of national and provincial association chairs and presidents were.

That survey also cited lack of access to training, and being denied opportunities, as well as “double standards,” lack of mentoring and lack of confidence as issues for women.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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