Seeking representation for women in Canadian agricultural leadership

Faculty of ALES doctoral student hopes to start a conversation on agrarian feminism.

Photo by aitchjae on Pixabay.

For Jennifer Braun, it started with a question: “Why do women have such a close connection with food in everyday life, but such poor representation when it comes to large-scale decision-making power?”

That query, and an interest in feminism, sparked a curiosity around food-related inequality and injustice that led Braun to complete a PhD in sociology at the University of Alberta, examining the relationship between gender, leadership and food production.

Braun grew up on a farm in rural Manitoba, until her family could no longer afford to be farmers. She attended Canadian Mennonite University, and later moved on to the University of Winnipeg, where she received an undergraduate degree in International Development Studies. Following her undergrad, Braun did an internship with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, looking at paradigms of agriculture in the global south and the global north. During this time, she wrote public engagement tools for communities to use to raise awareness of agricultural approaches that differed from conventional farming.

Always with an underlying interest in food, she went on to study traditional food knowledge in rural communities, receiving a master’s degree from the department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. These experiences led to her PhD work in agrarian feminism, focusing on the role of women in the Canadian agricultural sector.

Jennifer Braun (photo credit: Jonathan Dyck).

“Women have a ground-level role in food production, caring for the family and the community, but are underrepresented in decision-making power,” says Braun.

She believes this “lack of representation of diverse perspectives” could be one factor in preventing the most innovative and socially just solutions from being put forward; more equal representation is necessary in order to create sustainable and long-term change in the industry.

“There are a lot of consumer concerns around food safety, nutritional content, social justice, and the environment,” she says. “It’s becoming more apparent how unequal and broken our food system is.”

These issues are increasingly more prevalent in the public eye. With the ethical and health concerns surrounding conventional agricultural practices, people want to know where their food is coming from and how it was grown. There is hope for substantive change, as the agricultural sector responds to these kinds of consumer demands, and Braun hopes that her research can contribute to women being heard in the process.

“I hope my work can start a conversation”

Braun’s research involves interviewing women recognized as leaders by their peers in academia, government, industry, and non-profit organizations. Her interviews focus on women’s career trajectory, contribution to the agricultural sector, and gender dynamics within the agricultural sector — factors that she considers “personal reflections on what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated world.”

Her research seeks to highlight female leadership and women’s professional accomplishments in the sector, and understand how women are making their own mark on the industry, despite always being in the minority. By documenting their experiences, and understanding the legacy of such a male-dominated industry, she hopes to help shine a light on women’s contributions to food production in Canada, with the greater hope of building a more equitable and sustainable food system for the nation.

Written by Roxanne Hughes, a communications volunteer for the Office of Sustainability.