Gender and farming in Ethiopia: an exploration of discourses and implications for policy and research.

Type Working Paper - Working Paper-Future Agricultures
Title Gender and farming in Ethiopia: an exploration of discourses and implications for policy and research.
Issue 84
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
There is growing realisation that gender matters in African agriculture. However, a comprehensive and properly
contextualised analysis of the nature of gender and gender relations as well as the way it comes into play in
agriculture is lacking in much of the scholarly and policy debate surrounding the issue. The positioning of men and
women in relation to farming, the spaces they are and are not allowed to occupy, the embodied nature of agricultural
activities, and their implications to the future of African agriculture and rural youth are among the issues which
have attracted little attention thus far. In this paper, we explore the utility of these issues in understanding gender
issues within the context of small scale family farming in Ethiopia. Based on two qualitative studies of three rural
farming villages and the existing literature, we explore the cultural and highly symbolic construction of ‘the farmer’
as an essentially masculine subject in Ethiopia, and reflect on the reasons behind the continued persistence of this
construction and its implications for policy and further research. We argue that, due to its likely origin and long
history of use in the region, the plough occupies a pivotal and privileged place in the history of farming in Ethiopia.
Its practical and symbolic importance and its placement in the exclusive domain of men have resulted in the
construction of a particularly male centric notion of what it means to be a farmer and who can be considered one.
Although it has been argued that men have certain physical advantages that explain this male centric dominance,
we suggest that notions of embodiment have better explanatory power since there appear to be important differences
in the way men’s and women’s bodies are perceived in relation to farming implements and activities, on the basis
of which narratives of what they can and cannot do are constructed. We discuss the implications of this highly
gendered construction for the entry routes of young men and women into farming and their relative positioning
afterwards. Finally, we reflect on the implications of our findings for current policy and suggest directions for further
policy debate and research.

Related studies