The future of agriculture depends on women, says Julie Francoeur

The future of agriculture depends on women, says Julie Francoeur

The essay “Sortir du rang: la place des femmes en agriculture” was published by Les Éditions du remue-ménage on 1st May 2023.

As agricultural models are saturated and ecological challenges become more and more pressing, women must take more space to develop new local agricultural models where “careand respect for ecosystems are fundamental principles. This is what sociologist and co-founder of the Research Group on Agricultural Work (GReTA) at UQAM, Julie Francoeur, argues in her latest book entitled Sortir du rang: la place des femmes en agriculture >.

Her essay, published by Éditions du remue-ménage on May 1, paints a portrait of the (invisibilized) place that women have occupied on Quebec farms since the 19th century, through the productivist turn following the Second World War. world. By meeting women farmers, who are always present regardless of the era, Julie Francoeur calls for them to be given a voice and an important place in the development of an ecological, fair and equitable agricultural model for all.

“Where is the boss?”

Based on comics Where is the boss? Chroniques de paysannes by Maud Bénézit, Julie Francoeur explains that women, in addition to doing the work in the fields, constantly perform invisible tasks on the farm, such as washing dirty work clothes, doing the accounts, keeping the markets and even offer psychological support, unlike the men who carry out the “real” agricultural tasks.

These gendered roles “deny the professional autonomy of women”, since “the working activity of women farmers is understood, and organized, as if it constituted a more or less decisive activity in comparison with male work”.

The author adds that this gender dynamic is fueled by an unfavorable image of the agricultural environment, often singled out as a major polluter. It’s the individuals who manage these criticisms, and especially women, since the latter have to deal with the psychological distress, sometimes even the suicide, of their male partners, in addition to all the other tasks.

It’s precisely this productivist model, which destroys ecosystems in addition to making women and their contribution invisible, that is criticized by Julie Francoeur, who affirms that “agricultural systems that do not respect animals and nature do not respect more humans. She adds that zoning in Quebec and the power of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) are detrimental to the development of agricultural pluriactivity and the creation of small farms whose objectives are not exploitation and profit, which limits options for women who want to be owners.

Produce less, produce better

Despite this context that is not very favorable to the emancipation of women in this environment, Julie Francoeur underlines that an ecological conscience has emerged in reaction to the negative effects of the agricultural model currently in force. The desire for eternal growth knows its limits, financial, environmental and social, and it’s in response to these limits that non-productivist farms appear. [non-productivist] agriculture can not only minimize its impact on the environment, but also leave a positive imprint, highlights an ecological sensitivity that gives [women farmers] real competence on the farm,” explains the author, in giving the example of Maude-Hélène Desroches, owner of the Grelinette gardens, a diversified vegetable micro-farm known internationally for its agricultural practices.

Julie Francoeur is not fooled, and reminds us that women are always limited in their ability to move away from conventional expectations in agriculture. However, she remains optimistic in seeing the number of women getting involved in this field.

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