Young women feel stymied in agriculture

Political stripes aside, the defeat of Rachel Notley’s NDP government in Alberta struck a nerve with people concerned about gender-balanced, inclusive representation among provincial leaders.

Not since the early 1980s have provincial governments in our country all been led by men. It was glaring enough to see the photo of provincial leaders together last July at their retreat in New Brunswick, with Notley front and centre,  the only woman left in the bunch.

By then, Ontario and B.C. had turfed their provincial governments led by women. Now Alberta has, too.

This imbalance seemed to reignite the simmering frustration many rural women feel about the traditional male-dominated governance in agriculture — the old boys club —mainly in producer groups.  True, some victories have been realized, like the election in February of Mary Robinson — the first female president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in the organization’s 84-year history – and the appointment of Canada’s first female agriculture and food minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau.

But the issue remains. Early results from a four-country study by University of Guelph sociology and anthropology professor Sharada Srinivasan, the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Justice and Development at the university, show that in Ontario young women farmers “feel like they are not part of the conversation,” she says.

And as other research at Guelph has shown, it’s already isolating enough being a farmer, grappling with the mental health challenges that accompany isolation. Tacking gender issues onto that can be overwhelming.

Srinivasan makes these observations after research involving in-depth interviews with nearly 50 randomly-chosen young farmers (male and female) in Ontario for her study, sponsored by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

She wasn’t anticipating half of the sample being women farmers – that’s appreciably higher than it is in China, India or Indonesia, the other countries where she’s looking at young farmers’ impediments.

But it’s revealing. In all countries, she’s finding young farmers struggle with matters such as access to capital. Here, women farmers are telling her they have a particularly hard time being accepted by the farm community, and don’t really know what to do about it. She wants to hear from other young women farmers beyond her study. She wants to know more about the gendered barriers they face in becoming successful farmers.

What programs and policies would help them overcome these gendered barriers?

“Our interviews document a general male bias in ag in succession, in markets, in ag boards and organizations, but I would like more information on gendered barriers and support,” she says. She’s inviting young women farmers to contact her through her study’s email address, [email protected]

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