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  • Writer's picturedianemckenzie

Inequalities Exist in the Agriculture Industry

Like it or not, inequalities exist in the agriculture industry. The "advancement of women" trend in agriculture, helping to expose the realities of inequities, has stirred up responses ranging from cruel backlash, adamant denials, to daily conscious acts to reach a level playing field. Inequalities and lack of inclusion in the agriculture industry are old, and thorny topics. Very old. Very thorny.

Still, it is 2022 - and the long reach for parity for women and girls in agriculture continues to be slower than slow, maligned, overlooked, and misunderstood. It doesn't have to be this way.

It took some time and convincing for me to see how pervasive the disparities are and how they are maintained and passed from generation to generation. As Rebecca Solnit expressed, "So ingénue in my role...", I did not see - nor was I interested in looking - at the inequalities that exist for me and other women and girls in agriculture and family farming - and how I contribute to their persistence. Time passed and I started to ask more questions about inclusion and inequities as they related to myself, other women, and the intergenerational transfers of family farms.

A thorough investigation into family farms, land acquisition history, and women and girl's participation on family farms exposed everyday ways women are held back from reaching parity in the agriculture industry.

Does it go without saying to be a primary farm operator, one would need long term access to farmland? Historically, women and girls have been largely denied long term access to farmland. Full farm estates are predominately held in place by male relatives. Data shows girls are considered the primary benefactor less than 5% of the time. My own research demonstrated that of the 21 female farmers I interviewed; no one knew of any full farm estate whose ownership had been passed through more than two generations of women. That is not to say matrilineal inheritance patterns don't exist; it is to say there are few occasions of matrilineal land inheritance. Women and girls have been farmers since time immemorial, yet rarely become outright owners and operators of family farms. To some extent the 1980's matrimonial laws challenged this; in the example of a husband dying and women inheriting their spouses/their own land. Then women do, by happenstance, own the family farm land. Just as often though, it remains in the original holding pattern, ownership destined for the first born son, a male relative or friend.

In many respects the inequalities offered to women and girls who farm are as plain as the noses on our faces. Legal systems, moral codes, and our everyday social existence, so engrained - they perpetuate inequalities in ways we are not necessary even mindful of. When things suit us just fine the way they are, change can be unappealing.

By actively investing in gender equality we demonstrate we are open to other social options. By denying inequities, or by not actively working towards change - is devastatingly uncreative. Innovative understandings and the end of structural inequalities is the way forward - for everyone. Tokenism, minimization, outright denial is not on the path to productive change. Bravery, reaching further, and deepening personal understandings of how inequalities work, is. I believe the agricultural industry has the leaders to challenge and create innovative priorities to recognize, confront and change the cultural, social and political roadblocks where they are within our industry. It is difficult to change ourselves or change much of anything unless we're aware of the system we are working in. If we're aware of how we participate contemporarily we can imagine a different way of participating in the future.

I offer a clear, straightforward, professional development workshops directed towards agriculture leaders, associations, and corporations or other interested groups. The workshop offers plain, everyday examples of how to "dig deeper" and learn why inequalities persist and why they don't belong. Be the change. Challenge yourself and truly, stand out in your field.

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