Incorporating gender equality into agricultural research

March 25th, 2022

Group of people, seated and listening to a speaker
Hale Tufan shared her research into gender equality within plant breeding programs during a lecture March 24 in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

By Whitney Baxter

Hale Tufan, research professor in the Department of Global Development at Cornell University, shared some of her research into gender equality within plant breeding programs during a lecture March 24 at Iowa State University.

Titled, “Shifting Gender Equality from Afterthought to Guiding Goal of Agricultural Innovation,” the lecture tied in with March being Women's History Month and the World Food Prize Foundation's "She Who Provides" Digital Dialogue held earlier in the day. Barbara Stinson, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, was on hand to introduce Tufan.

Tufan talked about how around the world, women generally are not as educated, own less land and have lower financial means than their male counterparts. Also, they are not equally involved in plant breeding decisions or processes.

She gave the example of an improved rice variety that was introduced in Uganda. It was marketed as being able to increase household income. However, it was discovered the amount of labor required of women and children tending the rice was much greater than other varieties. Birds seemed to favor the rice more so than other varieties, causing the women and children to spend a lot of time trying to chase the birds away. There was also more weeding involved.

Had women been more included in the plant breeding process of this new variety, perhaps the increased labor requirements would have been addressed.

“We need to make gender equality central to crop breeding programs,” Tufan said. “We need to break down the breeding stages and find where interventions can come in and where women can become more involved.”

Including women in the various processes can, among other things:

  • Give them opportunities to make choices,
  • Expand their job responsibilities,
  • Allow them to be recognized as farmers, rather than just farmers’ wives and farm laborers.

“If you do it well and if you do it intentionally, you can have positive outcomes,” Tufan said.

Brittney Ford, junior in agricultural business and agricultural systems technology, decided to come to the lecture when she heard the topic of gender equality would be discussed.

The topic piqued her interest because in many of her agricultural systems technology classes, she is the only female. She comes from a family farm in eastern Iowa and while growing up, she and her two older brothers were assigned very different tasks on the farm based on their genders.

“There were times where my brothers were sent out to the field and I was sent to organize things,” Ford said.

Tufan talked about how women in agriculture may experience imposter syndrome, which is defined by as the feeling as if one is not as capable as others or the fear one will be exposed as a fraud.

People seated at tables talking
Hale Tufan met with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students in Curtiss Hall over lunch to talk about her research and answer any questions the students had.

Tufan encouraged women, when they find themselves questioning their abilities, to stop and realize many people experience these thoughts, at least to some extent. She encouraged women to change their mindset to one of believing they have something to contribute or offer to the situation or topic and they have a right to be there.

Kate Breya, sophomore in global resource systems, can relate to this feeling of doubt.

“Imposter syndrome is a real thing,” Breya said. “I see all the guys in my agronomy class and I wonder if I can do the same things they can. Then I look at the other girls in my class and think we can work together to find success.”

Tufan ended her lecture by talking about the Gender-Responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) program she coordinates with colleagues at Makerere University in sub-Saharan Africa. The program trains agricultural researchers in the practice of gender-responsive research and seeks “to increase opportunities for equitable participation and the sharing of benefits from agricultural research” to improve outcomes for women farmers, entrepreneurs and farmer organizations.

A goal of the program is to establish “advances in gender-responsiveness as the norm and standard for agricultural research.”

“It’s time for a paradigm shift,” Tufan said. “We need to move beyond safe discussions around gender equality and think how agricultural research can have long-term positive change in gender norms, power relations and social justice.”