Why are women absent in dominant agricultural debates?

Els Hegger is a farmer and researcher working with RSO on the SWIFT project. In this post, she reflects on the role of women in dominant agricultural debates and her own experiences at the SWIFT project kick-off meeting.

Els writes:

Because of the Brazilians (representing the MST movement), I realised what is going on and how -maybe- there is an alternative. When reading this project proposal I was both very interested and at the same time, I thought: “Didn’t we have this whole feminine thing, is this really necessary? Aren’t women in the Netherlands already empowered? Is this discussion about inclusion, LHBTIQ+ etc., really necessary?” I didn’t raise these questions out of resistance but because I didn’t see it. For me, women have the same opportunities as men. At least… I thought so.

However… women are absent in their fullness. We participate under certain set conditions, set by a white male capitalist-dominated history. It is so entrenched that I guess we don’t fully realize this.

Look at the main agricultural stage in the Netherlands. Yes, we now have Caroline v/d Plas, but is that a female representation? As a farmer, as a woman, as an Agroecological entrepreneur, I don’t feel represented. It’s not my arena. The method, the sound, the non-verbal language. We withdraw because we don’t feel at ease, we don’t feel home. Lethargy kicks in.

So, we need to create our home where we feel at home. Which language fits this? Which stories resonate? Is it singing, dancing, mystica, poems, histories…? Only if we re-create and co-create these, we can connect and only then we can enter the political arena. It’s rather obvious, but at the same time it is so interwoven with everything that we stop realising, it settles in the subconscious.

Within Toekomstboeren we’ve had quite some discussions about exactly this (although not specified through women) as I nearly withdrew from Toekomstboeren. I said I didn’t feel comfortable with the way we enter politics. For me, agroecology (AE) is so different from the dominant narrative that I cannot lobby in a traditional way, being drawn to the tables and tell what we need.

It is not my language and then we are tempted to withdraw. That’s why women are invisible. AE is a way of life, not a job you hold. It is running through my veins, it’s in every cell and bone. AE is not about ecologic farming, the word logic is not fitting. It’s beyond any rationale in a traditional sense; it is like the rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari. Mapping these could be an interesting insight.

Then there are the Brazilians (and there are more examples), who have developed their own language in a broad sense. They are able to mobilise an energy that truly connects: it is not only hierarchical, vertical talkative way of getting what you want. It is more horizontally moving, feeling as part of something not being united because you’re against something. This Brazilian way of mobilizing creates a togetherness that gives power to act. On a physical level, I feel backed, not such a naked back.

Obviously, this is a language beyond words. It is an all-encompassing language. A body language as much as a nature-language. It knows no race, ethnic origin, colour, male-female, it just is. You could say it is a feminine energy that complements the very overly present male energy. But.. is that correct? Or do we need to redefine? Is it a scale that is round, the edges are stretched so much that the ends are the beginning again? One of the Brazilians said: “Dare to acknowledge the woman inside you.” That goes for everyone, not only women. Vertical and horizontal.

Could you say that we need to tilt this structure of power?

The extremes are voiced, but the big middle group is searching. Is it a Western thing, a capitalistic view on male/female? Power? I think of Indonesia where I saw much more softness with men and at the same time a pride and dignity with both men and women. Equal in a very different sense. How does this result in voicing?

To come back to the beginning: changing the narrative. Which stories do we want to tell, to share, to connect to and built upon? We need to reframe, reconstruct and reclaim the words farmer, farming and food production. Stop talking about nature, start being it. Stop trying to fit in. Empower ourselves through language (including non-verbal language). Which future do we want to live now?

Els Hegger runs a small CSA market garden in the east of the Netherlands. Besides running this small-scale farm, she is an active member of Toekomstboeren and has a seat in the Federation of Agroecological Farmers in the Netherlands. One day a week she is a researcher at the Rural Sociology Group for the SWIFT-project. Els is passionate about flipping around dominant stories of food production and consumption, in order to reclaim truths and recognise the rich diversity of which human beings are an inherent entwined part.