Changing the Culture of FarmingMarch 28th, 2016
The biggest impediment to women entering the world of farming is best said by Debby Zygielbaum in her article, On Being a Woman in Farming, who argues that, “women are invisible within the farming subset, often written off as the `farmer’s wife’ or the `farmer’s daughter’.” Agriculture in our society has traditionally been a man’s game, and one needs only to search the internet to see thousands of accounts by women in our industry who are not being taken seriously and who are struggling to be considered worthy businesswomen.
Male dominance at national and provincial decision-making bodies is further proof of the male culture of the dairy industry. Of the four western Canadian Milk Marketing Boards, there are only two female directors compared to 33 male board members. In my home province of British Columbia there are no female representatives on the BC Milk Marketing Board, nor the provincial producer association, BC Dairy. There is also no female representation on the Dairy Farmers of Canada Board of Directors. It is only recently, and only in small numbers, that women started attending local dairy board meetings. This is a dramatic misrepresentation of the many women contributing to this industry. I am one of the few women who attend local industry workshops and meetings. It’s been very intimidating and it would be wonderful to see other women, who I know are out there on their farms get involved. I believe it’s important for women to connect with other farmers whenever possible and I do attend the provincial dairy conference when able.
Laura Johnston Monchuk of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture noted in 2006, “The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production. Despite their contributions to the global food supply, women farmers are often undervalued and overlooked in agricultural development strategies.” It isn’t that women aren’t actively doing this work but that there’s a stark flaw in the way gender in our industry is represented in the media. Women are grossly misrepresented or considered an afterthought in societies’ media. A great example of this misrepresentation is highlighted in a commercial titled "So God Made a Farmer,” which aired during the 2013 Super Bowl. This commercial became viral and showed an array of farms and people, yet upon a closer look the advertisement depicts 19 males and just three females. The commercial ends by suggesting that a farmer is no more proud than when his son decides to continue in his footsteps. This is a powerful example of the obvious gender bias in agriculture. As a mother of three daughters, my hope is for them to have every opportunity on the farm as any male counterpart. I am often spoken to with pity that I don’t have a son to take over the farm and this type of stereotyping needs to end. I continually challenge these beliefs as I am confronted with them. I proudly tell our farming story and let people know how I work with my husband – as his equal!
It’s a serious challenge for women to break through these generations-old stereotypes. I strongly believe the first step to breaking down these barriers is to empower women to share their stories. Women need to come together, create networks and support systems, and to share their obstacles and their triumphs. Women often juggle the balance between work and home; developing a healthy support network will significantly impact their level of success. To help spread our story I have started a Facebook page and developed a website to reach a broader audience. While our farm is small and remote, I still believe there is value in sharing what we do and how we do it as a team.
If we don’t share our story, who will tell it for us? For my daughters’ sake I hope to continue to share our farming story and earn respect as the hard working businesswoman and leader I am. It’s time for women to stand up and let the world know we are not only capable of doing the same work as our husbands, brothers and fathers, but in many cases we already are doing it every day across Canada.
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