Mainstreaming gender equality in agricultural research

Hale Tufan shared her research on gender equality in plant breeding programs at a March 24 talk in the Memorial Union’s Sun Room.

By Whitney Baxter

Hale Tufan, a research professor in the Department of Global Development at Cornell University, shared some of her research on gender equality in plant breeding programs at a March 24 conference at Iowa State University.

Titled “Moving Gender Equality Afterthought to the Guiding Purpose of Agricultural Innovation,” the conference was linked to Women’s History Month March and the digital dialogue “She Who Provides of the World Food Prize Foundation held earlier in the day. Barbara Stinson, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, was on hand to introduce Tufan.

Tufan explained how women around the world are generally not as well educated, own less land and have lower financial means than their male counterparts. Furthermore, they are not equally involved in plant breeding decisions or processes.

She gave the example of an improved rice variety introduced in Uganda. It has been marketed as being able to increase household income. However, it was found that the amount of labor required of women and children to care for rice was much greater than for other varieties. The birds seemed to prefer the rice more than the other varieties, causing the women and children to spend a lot of time trying to chase the birds away. There was also more weeding.

If women had been more involved in the plant breeding process for this new variety, the increased labor requirements might have been solved.

“We need to put gender equality at the heart of crop breeding programs,” Tufan said. “We need to break down the stages of reproduction and find where interventions can come in and where women can get more involved.”

Including women in the different processes can, among other things:

  • Give them the opportunity to make choices,
  • Expand their professional responsibilities,
  • Allow them to be recognized as farmers, rather than as farmers’ wives and farm workers.

“If you do it right and if you do it intentionally, you can have positive results,” Tufan said.

Brittney Ford, an agricultural business and farming systems technology junior, decided to come to the conference when she heard that the topic of gender equality would be discussed.

The subject piqued her interest because in many of her Farming Systems Technology classes, she is the only woman. She comes from a family farm in eastern Iowa, and growing up, she and her two older brothers were given very different jobs on the farm based on their gender.

“There were times when my brothers were sent into the field and I was sent to organize things,” Ford said.

Tufan explained how women in agriculture can experience impostor syndrome, which is defined by as the feeling that one is not as capable as others or the fear of being exposed as fraud.

People sitting at tables chatting
Hale Tufan met with students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Curtiss Hall over lunch to talk about her research and answer questions from students.

Tufan encouraged women, when they question their abilities, to stop and realize that many people feel these thoughts, at least to some degree. She encouraged women to change their mindset to believe that they have something to contribute or offer to the situation or topic and that they have a right to be there.

Kate Breya, a sophomore in Global Resource Systems, can relate to this feeling of doubt.

“Imposter syndrome is a real thing,” Breya said. “I see all the guys in my agronomy class and I wonder if I can do the same things as them. Then I look at the other girls in my class and I think we can work together to be successful.

Tufan ended her talk by talking about the GREAT (Gender Sensitive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation) program that she coordinates with colleagues at Makerere University in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program trains agricultural researchers in the practice of gender-responsive research and seeks to “increase opportunities for equitable participation and benefit-sharing in agricultural research” to improve outcomes for women farmers, entrepreneurs and organizations peasants.

One of the goals of the program is to establish “progress in mainstreaming gender as a norm and standard for agricultural research”.

“It’s time for a paradigm shift,” Tufan said. “We need to move beyond safe discussions of gender equality and think about how agricultural research can have long-term positive change in gender norms, power relations and social justice.”

Lana T. Arthur