Women in agricultural research and production
||Gender, Governmental organization, Participatory approaches, Philippines, Human resources.
||nn. (1999), "Editorial: Women in agricultural research
and production." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 37,
The sub-theme of this issue deals with an underrepresented topic at
the Monitor: women in agriculture. The lack of coverage has much to do
with the lack of gender perspective in most agricultural research, as Howard
points out. Yet reality reflects a great contradiction where there is a
growing ‘feminization of agriculture’ as exemplified in China (see
Song). This phenomenon is reflected by the dramatic increase in the
number of female farmers, and the significant shift of agricultural workload
to women, as can be seen in Asia. The near absence of participation by
female farmers’ in formal agricultural research has striking similarities
with the lack of decision making power of female scientists in agricultural
research. An interesting study has been conducted by the International
Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), authored by Brush,
Merill-Sands et al. in 1995 on "Women Scientists and Managers in
Agricultural Research in the Philippines". In the Philippines, 54 per
cent of scientists in the public sector agricultural research are women.
Apparently, this figure constitutes one of the highest in the world. As
a case study, the issues raised in the Philippines could be of relevance
to other countries where there is an increase in women’s participation
in agricultural science.
Despite the high proportion of women scientists in the Philippines,
they remain severely underrepresented in the senior scientific and management
positions, which remain the men’s domain. This has a critical effect, since
agricultural research in the Philippines, and throughout the world for
that matter, has a very top-down hierarchy. Hence, despite their number,
Filipino women scientists have limited influence on the research agenda.
Similarly, in the feminization of agriculture in China, female farmers,
despite their number, have no influence over the agricultural technology
developed by the formal research sector. The material and cultural conditions
for this notable parallelism of female farmers and female scientists are
indicated by the following: Firstly, the economic necessities,
particularly in developing countries, dictate that both men and women work
in order to support their households. This is true for farmers in China
and for agricultural researchers in the Philippines. Secondly, the
perception of women’s inferior status in relation to men limits
women’s income opportunities. In China, rural women do not have the mobility
to take advantage of better employment opportunities in the urban areas.
In Filipino agricultural research, while men generally accept women as
their colleagues, they still have difficulty in accepting women as their
superior or line managers. Hence, women have to negotiate major obstacles
if they are to be promoted as senior scientists or managers. Thirdly,
the perceived inferior status of agriculture reflects largely on
women. In China, agriculture is considered inferior compared with employment
in industry. In the Philippines, public sector agricultural research is
viewed as inferior in terms of prestige and income compared to other fields
of employment in the private sector. Hence, for both countries, agricultural
production and public agricultural research are only either fall-back positions
or supplementary income support. Fourthly, the double burden
of women remains unaddressed and hinders their positions. Chinese female
farmers and Filipino female scientists both have to take care of household
and farming and household and career, respectively.
Despite all these similarities, the question remains: would the participation
of female farmers in agricultural research and development be greatly improved
by increasing the number of women scientists in senior and management positions?
The answer is no, as long as institutional barriers still exist. If the
top-down, male dominated research paradigm is not addressed, then women
in senior scientist or management positions will still have the same restrictions
and will tend merely to mimic their male counterparts. Changing the conventional
research paradigm would mean changing the decision making structure and
the power positions that go with it. Consequently, research must also be
decentralized to extend decision making to farmers, and especially to women
farmers, since they are even less empowered than their male counterparts,
but are equally, if not even more, involved in agriculture. Moreover, gender
perspective in agricultural research needs to be institutionalized.
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