It was a funny experience, really, but a point worth pondering. When we asked a group of children to describe a farmer, all of them immediately said that a farmer was a man who planted and harvested crops in a field or a farm. Naturally, the definition, although simplistic, did make sense. But the point of the matter is that none of the children ever pictured the farmer as a woman.
This comes as no surprise in many developing, historically and traditionally patriarchal societies like the Philippines. Going another level deeper, the children’s description shows us yet another stumbling block that developing countries face.
Since the pre-colonial times, the Philippines has been a predominantly agricultural country. I remember running through my lessons in Political Science and History and uncovering a vast inventory of laws related to the development of agriculture in the country. In college, some of my classmates used to say that the reason why the Philippines is having a hard time making the transition from developing to developed is that it has refused to trade agriculture for industrialization.
Personally, I believe this is not necessarily the case. It is clear that agriculture is the Philippines’ economic niche however, it is vital for the Philippines to explore agriculture from the gender perspective.
According to the World Development Report of 2008 on Agriculture, despite the fact that there are several women farm workers in the developing world, their participation in decision making processes, and their access to resources and capital are generally controlled by their fathers, husbands, or their brothers. Because of this limitation, many women have found it extremely difficult to escape poverty.
Women farmers are usually limited to subsistence farming. Given the patriarchal system, many more women are subjected to longer working hours compared to men because apart from having to toil in the fields, they are also tasked to care of the domestic chores.
It is not enough for the government to create laws and policies to safeguard women’s rights to own land, to decentralize land irrigation and the resources that are vital for farming, and to strengthen women’s land rights. A bold step has to be taken to put more women in key committees in the Department of Agriculture or in Land Ministries. Women must also be made aware of the existence of policies revolving around land and agriculture, and they must also be taught the necessary skills for maintaining their farms and yielding a steady income.
The initiative will not only require a change in women’s attitudes and mindsets about themselves but it will also require the cooperation of the men around them. Then and only then can women grow where they are planted.