Can gender determine the success of a farmer?
Is farming supposed to be characterized by gender? While I may have been raised in farming and regarded both grandparents as farmers, since delving into the field of agri-tourism I often hear the phrase “men are farmers” from some of the most unlikely places, even the NGOs that are supposed to support gender equality do not consider women to be involved in agriculture. So I took a step back because it was baffling to me that farming was regarded as a male-dominated field.
When you look at it, 90% of the fruit and vegetable vendors in the market are women, so I suppose the natural tendency would be to think that women are the hucksters while men are the growers? While in some cases this may be true, it is nothing close to reality- in fact I would say that often-times women are both producer and seller. Years ago, I remember looking at my mother’s birth certificate and seeing my grandfather listing himself as a farmer and my grandmother a house-wife. This was the same person who would wake up alongside her husband at 4:00 a.m. to go the ‘garden’ and by 10:00 a.m. her stall was set-up at the market, so why would you claim to be a house-wife and not a joint business partner? I’ve seen this problem over and over where as women we assume the roles that we deem appropriate for ourselves, appropriate for society, but they are not the actual roles that we play. And it shows up in our statistics- as the unemployment rate of women in St. Lucia is slightly higher than that of men: 24.7% vs. 20.1%, but then two-thirds of small businesses in St. Lucia are women-owned (67%). How can that make sense?
What’s even more shocking is that male business owners are more than twice as likely to receive financial assistance (28.3%) from banks to manage their daily operations when compared to their female counterparts (12.5%). And we wonder why the financial situation of so many, particularly women, is so dire. If we look closely, one-fifth of the population is engaged in agriculture and two-thirds of the population are headed by single-mothers, most rural women who want to expand to large-scale operations and become trading partners with local businesses such as supermarkets or hotels are less than likely to receive financial assistance from banks, when compared to male farmers who have more access to financial institutions and capacity-building programs because “farmers are men”. Rural women are then left with no other choice but to continue a small-scale model that is not sustainable. Can we safely say that the game is rigged against rural women or is it all just a coincidence?
*Helen’s Daughters is a St. Lucian non-profit with a special focus on rural women’s economic development through improved market access, adaptive agricultural techniques, and capacity-building. It was formed in 2016 in a winning proposal for UN Women’s Empower Women Champions for Change Program.
To learn more about the initiative, you can visit:
Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/helensdaughters.slu/),