June 15th, 2015
Globally speaking, women produce over half of the food that is grown in the world, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. The importance of women’s roles in agriculture around the world cannot be denied. Despite their significant contributions to the world’s food supply, women have often been overlooked in the historical context of agriculture. This same story applies to women in Canadian agriculture. Both in Canada and across the world, women are the mainstays of rural agricultural communities.
An Increase in Canadian Women’s Roles
The proportion of Canadian women considered as farm operators is on the rise since 2001, as suggested by Statistics Canada. This trend continues from 1991, when the Canadian Census of Agriculture began counting up to three operators on a farm.
In 2006, 27.8% of farmers in Canada women, which was a slight rise from the number in 2001, which was 26.3%. While these women rarely farm by themselves, this number typically increases on a yearly basis. Women also form approximately 40% of operators on farms with multiple operators. Farming in Canada remains a male-dominated industry, but the significant number of women involved in this equation speaks to the essential involvement of women in Canadian agriculture.
Behind the Scenes
Of course, there is much more to women’s roles than numbers alone can demonstrate. Canadian women often provide the anchor for social and economic transformations taking place across the country.
Women perform a multitude of tasks behind the scenes that a census cannot quantify. Women are often responsible for making sure the farm runs properly, both on a day-to-day basis and in the long term. When unpaid reproductive or domestic care responsibilities are added into this mix, the total amount of hours that women work on the farm is almost always longer than men’s. This is usually the case on a global scale.
Women in Canadian agriculture are faced with a lack of social services, falling farm incomes, and fewer options for external employment or schooling. Despite some of these adverse scenarios, many women continue to provide the primary support to maintain their farms, their families, and their communities.
The majority of fulltime women on the farm are also fulltime caregivers for children and the elderly. Almost half of all women in Canadian agriculture also work in positions off the farm as well. While the amount of hours that are worked on the farm has remained fairly stable since 1996, both men and women are embracing a more encompassing social and work life, both on and off the farm.
The introduction of additional work external to the farm is usually taken on to expand opportunities while providing an additional income to offset any economic disparities.
Due to cultural barriers, women around the world are often prevented from assuming a recognized leadership role both on the farm and in important agricultural policy-making positions. The amount of time they commit both on and off the farm also serves as a deterrent. It is important that the voice of women in Canadian agriculture is also included when considering agricultural development strategies at the local and global levels. Women play a pivotal role in agriculture around the globe, and it is time that their contributions on the farm are recognized and valued.