Technology with a Gender Perspective: Smart Agriculture

The 21st century is without a doubt an era of technology. Children nowadays are born into a world filled with emerging technologies. People have become accustomed to using technology to facilitate their daily life. We always pay attention to new things, since they present a certain level of risk and potential threat to our way of life. Yet, technology has already become such a familiar concept that people have started to lose awareness of the negative and significant impact it might bring to our lives.

Similarly, many of the people in developed countries believe that we are already living in a time of gender equality. Since women can already vote and work, what else can possibly be lacking? Yet, they lose track of the gender bias embedded in our society, which could cause great uncertainty in the development of new technologies. For example, as you may know, Google collects all sorts of data to train their search engine. The data collected serves as a reflection of the image people have regarding certain concepts. Yet, until now, when we search “doctor” or “boss”, the results that appear are still overwhelming those of white, middle-aged males.

Between technology and gender equality — Gendered Innovations

According to statistics in Taiwan, in 2018, men still comprise about 70% of all mechanical and technological positions, while women comprise 70–80% of all support positions, such as a secretary or assistant. Though we may encourage women and girls to participate in the technology industry, what if elements of our society doesn’t actually encourage them to do so? Or, what if the environment or technology itself wasn’t friendly enough for them? These might all become obstacles for them to enter the sector.

A new research method, Gendered Innovations, was created to tackle the above-mentioned issues. Gendered Innovations harnesses the creative power of gender analysis for innovation and discovery. Considering that gender may add a valuable dimension to research (Schiebinger et al., 2011), this research method makes it easier for us to look deeply into the design process of a certain technology, and even provides a chance to review it thoroughly using evidence-based analysis.

Smart agriculture as an example — How digitalization empowers women

In Eastern and Southeastern Asia, women are responsible for half of agricultural labor (FAO, 2010). Many of these female farmers have demanding jobs that require them to operate heavy machinery or spend excessive time managing all of the chores. If technology could facilitate their work, it would mark a changing point for them.

Since 2016, the Taiwanese government has been implementing “Agriculture 4.0” as an important policy for agricultural digital transformation. It encourages agribusiness to digitize their work and create a more precise and effective way of business.

Aligning with Agriculture 4.0, Jennifer Ya-Ping Hsiung, the president of Great Agriculture Co., Ltd. adopted the “i-plant” system. She set up a strategic room to precisely manage the production of their corn and install software that helps remotely monitor the whole process — from production to sales. The adoption of this technology has lightened the burden of Hsiung’s work, and made it possible for her to find a balance between work and life.

New challenges: Gendered Innovations as a path to sustainable solutions

With the progression of time, new challenges have also appeared in our society. In recent years, climate change has been threatening our ability to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty, and achieve sustainable development. It has both direct and indirect effects on agricultural productivity, including changing rainfall patterns, drought, flooding and the geographical redistribution of pests and diseases. As ICT has been making remarkable progress in the agricultural industry, it is important that we adopt smart agriculture as an approach to reduce poverty, and increase food and nutrition security.

However, climate change has had an even greater impact on a few particular sections of the population. Many people are excluded from mainstream development due to their gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability or economic disadvantage. Women, particularly indigenous, rural, or migrant women, both young and old, more frequently face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in conditions of poverty. Furthermore, the majority of the world’s poor are women (UNFCCC, 2019).

Considering the above, Gendered Innovations could serve as an approach that benefits all stakeholders — including marginalized groups — in addressing social and economic development issues. Before even designing the technology, designers/ researchers/ engineers must first identify the different needs of women with intersectional identities as well as view women as a factor in their designs. Also, as women comprise half of the agricultural labor force, they should also serve as contributors to solutions for climate change. So, how can we do this?

Adopting a policy toolkit to promote gender Inclusion in Smart Agriculture

Last year, a policy toolkit to guide the government in developing new methods of thought in the smart agriculture industry was published. The policy toolkit was organized according to three different areas: Enabling Environment, Sustainable and Inclusive Development and Technology Innovation. Across these three areas, various stakeholders from the agri-tech industry are able to find suitable methods to integrate gender perspectives into their work, enabling them to develop accessible technologies or even promote a more friendly environment to lighten the burden of women in the agriculture sector. Additionally, this policy toolkit provides a guide that helps female farmers contribute to the sector or to fight against climate change.

The policy toolkit is now being shared with countries across the Asia-Pacific region. Stay tuned to learn more about this practical toolkit!

Other articles in this issue

Be Not Afraid of Science: Dr. Chia-Li Wu

Being a scientist and a feminist at the same time, Dr. Wu has been encouraging young women and girls into science. She is also one of the founders of the first network of women scientists in Taiwan.

Injecting New Life into Ailing Bodies and Companies: Dr. Sherry Ku

Dr. Sherry Ku encourages young women in STEM to fight for what they deserve with her own experience, which teaches her a lesson that never let your gender limit you.

NGOCSW 64: Taiwan Gender Equality Week

Taiwan will be holding Taiwan Gender Equality Week in New York during NGOCSW 64. Don’t miss the chance to know more about Taiwan’s recent achievements on women’s rights and gender equality!

Author: Vivian Chen

A curious person, trying to create social impact with gender lens. Currently expanding knowledge in impact investing.

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LEAP: Voices of Youth is a quality platform for English readers to learn about gender issues in Taiwan

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