Friday, October 21, 2011

Farmville (Part IV): Women in farming

This past week in our Law of Rural Livelihoods class we read an excerpt from Farmer Jane, a book chronicling women in farming. The reading reminded me of an article I read in my local paper a few months prior. The article featured four sisters taking up and operating the family farm. When I originally read the article I remember thinking, "These girls are doing it all on their own? How are they going to manage?" I whole heartily believe that a woman can do anything a man can, so looking back on my thought process I am surprised I ever thought a woman could not farm on her own.

Perhaps I held this view because there are so few women owned farms in America. 2.8 million people claim farming as an occupation in the US, however there are only 300,000 women owned farms. Even though the numbers might suggest women are not involved with farming, actually female farmers are the fasted growing population buying and operating small farms. While more women are entering the farming world, many still face gender discrimination.

In an NPR interview, two women farmers were asked about their experiences in the agricultural industry. A previous blog post on this interview can be found here. Both women spoke about the discrimination they face. They described how men in the industry sometimes think a woman does not know as much about farming as a man would. In addition to cultural discrimination, until recently, women farmers also faced institutional discrimination.

In 2000, a number of women farmers filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for gender discrimination. The women stated they were unfairly denied farm loans because of their gender. In response to the lawsuit, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo introduced HR 4246, also known as the Equality for Women Farmer's Act in 2009. The bill would force the Department of Agriculture to write to denied applicants for farm loans, explaining the reasoning behind the denial. The farmer would then be given an opportunity to provide rebuttal evidence to show they in fact meet the program requirements.

The bill stalled, however, because on February 25th the USDA announced it would be launching a program for resolving women farmer's discrimination claims against the agency. The program will provide at least 1.3 billion in compensation and up to 160 million in farm debt relief to eligible women. Additionally the program would provide for up to $50,000 for reach woman farmer claimant who is successful in establishing the USDA discriminatory denied her a loan during certain periods between 1981-2000.

Since there are still very few women farmers, it is important there is a support group these women can go to. The USDA has a women outreach program. The program, "partner(s) with other federal and state agencies, community-based organizations and various grower organizations to improve the lives of women farmers and ranchers." Additionally, there is the California Women for Agriculture group. The group develops the interest of California women in agriculture and holds multiple social events to provide a support group for each other. Now that more women are entering farming, it is nice to see there are programs in place to help them succeed.


Courtney Taylor said...

Unfortunately, just as there is discrimination against female farm owners, there is discrimination against female farm laborers. This issue first came to my attention when my husband explained the different roles that men and women play on the local farm where he works. The men pick the fruit and the women sort it. During the harvest of almost every crop, there is a clear line drawn between what the men do and what the women do.

An article in the Journal of Gender and Law called "Sex Discrimination & Sexual Harassment in Agricultural Labor" found that women are even hired for shorter periods of time than men. It found that women also perform the lower paying jobs in the fields, like hoeing. Unfortunately, from what I've read, there is still not much research on this specific issue and laws protecting women's rights tend to not be enforced in the farm laborer context.

The article can be found here:

JT said...

As both your article and Courtney's comment indicates, both female farmers as well as female laborers face gender discrimination. Aside from the lack of education regarding farming, is another possible reason for gender discrimination due to biological differences? I wonder if the hiring period of female laborers, for example, is shorter because of the assumption that they either aren't as physically capable or due to family planning matters? This article describes how a female farmer used family planning education to her advantage:

It will be interesting to see whether the programs effectively dispel discrimination against female farmers and laborers.