The stereotypical image of farmers in American culture usually reflects an Old-MacDonald-esque middle-aged white man clad in a plaid shirt, overalls and straw hat.
While the thought of anyone wearing this can make a person giggle, it is seriously outdated. It ignores not only men’s outfit evolution but, more importantly, women’s prominence in the farming industry.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, women are responsible for producing 60% to 80% of food in non-industrialized countries and half of the world’s food production. In a 2018 publication from the organization, it was reported that while proving to be essential to global cultivation, women only make up 15% of the world’s landowners.
If women are responsible for half of the world’s food production, at least half of them should be able to own their own land. Their labor in farming and agriculture deserves to be recognized and praised just as much as men’s.
Reasons for such seldom land ownership by women vary, but one of the most common is patrilineal farm transfer.
The classic father-and-son farming duo is not just a relationship enacted in punny Ocean Spray commercials. Sons of farm owners often are the ones destined to inherit and preserve their fathers’ land, leaving daughters with little leeway to demonstrate the laborious skills they’ve acquired throughout their lives. Without land ownership or apt knowledge of farm labor, daughters are forced to take employee or “farm wife” roles if they want to remain in cultivation.
For women farmers who are lucky enough to own land, their fortune falls short with their income. According to a 2017 analysis by Pacific Standard, male farmers on average earn twice as much as female farmers in the United States.
Ignoring women’s value on their family’s farmland simply because of their gender is a perfect example of the dangers behind the phrase: “We’ve always done it this way.”
Farming is not a man’s game anymore, as the number of women farmers increases globally. While in past farm societies, women were responsible for tasks like cooking, mending clothes and managing gardens, their roles today have evolved to equate to that of men. Land ownership and wages should be evolving with them.
Gender inequality within farming and agriculture not only affects the women whose strenuous work goes undervalued but, more importantly, it affects the entire world’s food production.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Just giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women's farms in developing countries by 20% to 30%. This could raise total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12% to 17%, or 100 to 150 million people.”
Depriving women farmers of their deserving resources, land and wages is not only sexist but prevents world hunger from dissipating. In no way does gender inequality in the cultivation industry benefit a single person as greatly as it harms the world’s population.
A major issue regarding gender inequality in this workplace is the general public’s lack of knowledge regarding farming and agriculture, the labor that both practices require and the prejudices within these environments.
This willful ignorance is in part a result of the nation’s shift from agricultural work to other employment ventures over the last century. Nowadays, unless individuals are born and raised on a farm, they are not likely to understand much about farming nor find it relevant to their daily lives.
While gender inequality in institutions like television and athletics has been highlighted and thus reduced over the years, it remains hidden and stagnant in farming and agriculture.
Just because farm labor isn’t in the public eye doesn’t mean that gender inequality on farmlands is acceptable or doesn’t need to be acknowledged. The selflessness of women farmers deserves to be met with recognition and advocacy.
Farmers are already undermined no matter their gender. It is so easy for many to walk into a grocery store and buy all the fruits, grains and vegetables they please that they forget the difficulty of the produce’s labor.
Alienating the food on their plates from those who cultivated it, the public remains ignorant to the complexities of food production and the women who make it all possible. Without this knowledge, women farmers will never earn the praise they deserve, and gender inequalities on farmlands will not change.
In order to minimize gender discrepancies in farming and agriculture while offering women farmers more opportunities for prosperity, there needs to be a greater appreciation for the farming profession in general. When farming is perceived as just as valuable as other professions, the public will become more inclined to understand the hardships women farmers face in the industry.
When browsing through grocery markets, remember where your food comes from and reflect on the diligent women who produce it.