A Little Bit Western


Gender Bender

Nov 6, 2017

Recently there has been some discussion surrounding women-oriented agricultural events and groups. Organizations like Women in Ag, and national conferences such as Advancing Women in Agriculture, have sparked debate and even inspired a column in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix about this “dicey topic.” Questions have surfaced…Why aren’t there men-only agricultural events? Are women just creating their own barriers? Why don’t more women join agricultural boards? Should men encourage women to participate more? Or should women just step up to the plate?

I’m a rancher and an agricultural professional and I’ve thought a fair bit about my experiences as a woman in agriculture. I have a heritage of strong, rural women. My fore-mothers worked hard on their farms, raised large families on little, and in some cases, had to navigate new languages. My mother was one of just a few females Agros in her class and later became the first female extension agrologist in Saskatchewan. She overcame gender roadblocks that my generation fortunately never had to encounter. Compared to past  inequalities, I’ve got it made in the shade.

Yet, I still participate in female-focused agriculture events. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a women’s range workshop where I found kinship among women who shared my passion for grass and cattle. We also shared common struggles, discussing how to budget on one annual calf cheque, or how best to physically handle a roll of baler net wrap — these ladies spoke my language, I had found my tribe! I continue to attend women’s events, big and small, specific or general, because I find them useful on a personal and professional level.

When it comes to the old boys’ club rhetoric surrounding industry representation, I admit I’m not doing my demographic justice. I do not currently hold a role on an industry board, but it’s not because “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics” as per the Star Phoenix piece. Noooooo. Ugh. God, no. I would do great things on a board, and perhaps someday I will. At the moment however, I have four kids aged zero to seven, and a board role would cause my family, my ranch, my household, and other community commitments to suffer. My lack of board participation is certainly NOT because I’m disinterested. In fact, I serve in other capacities, and maintain close contact with beef lobby groups, participate in formal mentorship programs, and attend industry meetings (with or without a baby on my hip).

As a rancher and a professional, I look to several leaders that represent both genders and span many generations. I value male and female perspectives, but I still think there are differences between men and women – good, bad or indifferent. If we can have women’s sports organizations, female religious groups, or business women networks, why shouldn’t we have women’s agricultural groups? Agriculture absolutely needs positive events and organizations that build capacity in women and men, in families, groups, and sectors.

Maybe it’s time people stop mansplaining how women’s ag events don’t work and start thinking about how they do.

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