It is IFOAM’s goal to facilitate equal participation of women in the Organic Agriculture movement. In this context, a new IFOAM study investigates the ways in which OA can contribute to the empowerment of rural women, and identifies “lessons learned” for future work on the basis of a collection of analytical case studies from around the world.
Gender relationships are fundamental worldwide to the way farm work is organised, the way assets such as land, labour, seeds and machinery are managed, and to farm decision-making. Given this, the lack of adequate attention to gender issues within the organic and sustainable farming movements is worrying. The revolutionary potential of sustainable approaches to farming to reshape our food systems, and the way humans interact with those systems, will not be realized unless there is a concerted effort by committed sustainable farmers and consumers to work towards gender equality. Indeed, the question addressed by this paper can be turned on its head. As well as asking how participation in organic and sustainable farming can empower women, we can ask: How does the participation of women broaden and deepen the multiple goals of organic and sustainable farming?
In this paper, we call upon the insights of the practitioners and academics who work in the sustainable and organic farming movements. We permit ourselves rather fuzzy boundaries, relying on the self-definition of the people involved. This is because the work of women in sustainable farming (as opposed to certified organic farming) is quite well-researched, particularly in the North, and thus offers deep understandings to this paper. For this reason we use the terms organic and sustainable interchangeably. We make it clear when we are speaking only of certified organic production. We recognise that ecological farming, and agro-ecological farming, are useful synonyms, although we do not use them in this paper.