Article / Event / Gender / Research / Women

Empower women to tend farms, families, high-level science careers — Nature and NYT


Fisherwoman, by B Prabha, 1960 (via Blake Gopnik’s Daily Pic in the Daily Beast).

Whether female scientists will want to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March may depend on how far they look back in time. Things have changed, and if you talk in terms of decades, there are considerable victories to cheer about. But despite those victories, progress now seems to have stalled. — Nature

Two prestigious publications — the New York Times newspaper and Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal — this week published opinion pieces calling for the empowerment of women so that they can better tend their farms, families and/or high-level science careers. Staff of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its many partner organizations are ambitious to support all of the above.

Not to support women’s empowerment in these ways, the NYT and Nature argue, is a waste of half the human talent on earth.

The New York Times op-ed, ‘The feminization of farming’, written by Olivier de Schutter, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, describes the feminization of global farming, as more and more men leave the countryside to pursue jobs in the cities.

‘. . . A 2000 study of developing countries by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that as much as 55 percent of the reduction in hunger from 1970 to 1995 could be attributed to improvements in women’s status in society. Progress in women’s education alone (which explained 43 percent of gains in food security) was nearly as significant as increased food availability (26 percent) and health advances (19 percent) put together.

Many governments have recognized the causes of the poverty trap but have not done enough to remove the obstacles facing women.

‘In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council that is being released today’, de Schutter continues, ‘I urge a comprehensive, rights-based approach focused on removing legal discrimination and on improving public services — child care, water supplies, sanitation and energy sources — to reduce the burden on women who farm. But such an approach must also systematically challenge the traditional gender roles that burden women with household chores in the first place.

Recognizing the burden that the feminization of global farming places on women requires us to overturn longstanding gender norms that have kept women down even as they feed more and more of the world. The most effective strategies to empower women who tend farm and family — and to alleviate hunger in the process — are to remove the obstacles that hinder them from taking charge of their lives.’

The Nature article, ‘Science for all’, argues that sexism is alive and well in science. And that it must go.

What’s the ‘insidious major problem’? You guessed it:

Overt or unconscious gender bias.

Gender bias, the editorial argues, ‘is locked in place by male dominance at all the levels of decision-making that affect academic careers — from journal editorial boards, to grant-reviewing boards, to academic selection committees. Women are barely visible at these levels, fixing the subconscious idea that science belongs to men. There are many ways to chip away at this invisibility and they should all be tried, with the results published so that others can learn from them. . . .’

Read the whole Nature editorial, Science for all, 6 Mar 2013, and the whole New York Times op-ed, The feminization of farming, 3 Mar 2013.

View an article posted today on ILRI’s News Blog to celebrate the world’s women farmers: WILD: Take a look at famous artworks depicting ‘Women in Livestock Development’, 8 Mar 2013.

With thanks to ILRI’s Shirley Tarawali for forwarding these news clips.

See related stories from

Sexist attitudes: Most of us are biased, 06 March 2013 (‘Let’s move beyond denial . . . .’)

Inequality quantified: Mind the gender gap, 06 March 2013 (‘Female scientists continue to face discrimination, unequal pay and funding disparities. . . .’)

Laboratory life: Scientists of the world speak up for equality, 06 March 2013 (‘Eight experts give their prescriptions for measures that will help to close the gender gap in nations from China to Sweden. . . .’)

Women in science: Women’s work, 06 March 2013 (‘Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less,win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. . . .’)

Nature special: Women in science, 06 Mar 2013

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