Gender Issues in Farming

An unnecessary gap

We were quite busy the day we were in Dedza. We spent some time with a women-only farming group. The Farm Radio Trust (FRT) team was researching to understand the gender issues in relation to Radio Marketplace, and the farming of groundnuts. Namely, to determine the relationship between women and marketing issues, and whether any gender issues exist in bringing groundnuts to market. FRT wants to understand the problems female farmers face; whether they have sufficient price negotiation skills and the capacity to successfully negotiate in the marketplace.

This matter came out of necessity.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.’ — Maya Angelou

I was told a rather disturbing fact about this one group of farmers. I didn’t question why there were only female representatives in the group, it seemed normal to me. My colleague quickly snuffed out that lapse of naivety.

He mentioned, “This is a female only farming group”. I think I noticed that; I didn’t think to mention it as it didn’t seem that big of a deal.

Well, these women in particular are not managing their households and farms because they necessarily want to. Their husbands left for Lilongwe or South Africa in search of more stable, easy and higher paying work. They come back after harvest to reap the benefits and profit from yield, then take off. They have a way of ensuring that their wives remain faithful: they impregnate them and use the child’s age to determine whether she was faithful. I was disgusted.

What’s worse, these men are not faithful in their time away from home. Resulting in a spread of HIV/AIDS to their wives. FRT, by means of the Radio Marketplace Program, is seeking a way to further help these cases by narrowing the existing gender gap in farming. Fixing wage gaps, property ownership issues, and ensuring that these women are able to care for themselves and their family without being taken advantage of will narrow this gap.

This sad truth did not affect me as I thought it would. I didn’t feel pity or sadness for these women. I felt angry for them, and I felt helpless in that this problem could not be immediately fixed.

‘It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.’ — Madeleine Albright

I was reassured that this is a slow march forward, and reducing the gender gap was among many steps to take. A motivation for Malawi to rid farming and agriculture of these gender issues exists, and I think it should be heard. Empowering these women, and bringing both genders to social equality will allow the agriculture industry to explode in development. This will benefit economic growth from export and increased production yields, as well as help farmers around the country to come closer to a state of income and food security. It will be a domino effect of epic proportions.

I’ve learned that awareness is helpful, despite the fact that it is not an immediate aid. It’s a start.

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