Gender equality benefits ag groups, communities

“Hello. I’m calling about that air drill you have advertised.” 


That’s my approach when I call about farm equipment for sale, whether the voice answering the phone is male or female. I don’t just assume the seller is going to be a guy, even though that’s almost always the case.


Gender equality has come a long way in our society, and agriculture is no different. 


However, there are still differences in the occupations and businesses that women and men tend to pursue, and this may always be the case. 


Women were a small but growing percentage of undergrads when I was studying agriculture in university in the late 1970s, but they have now become the majority. As a result, the agriculture professionals providing advice to producers are increasingly female, while in most cases the people receiving the advice are predominately male.


Yes, more women than ever are assuming management roles within farm operations, but a producer information meeting to discuss a new herbicide is likely to draw a lot more men than women.


Women in agriculture are celebrated through specific conferences, blogs and Twitter campaigns. Those are great initiatives to break down remaining gender bias, but we should also realize that men and women do not always share the same aspirations and interests. 


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Many sociologists say it’s be-cause we raise little girls differently than little boys. We give them different toys and we instil different expectations. 


That is no doubt true, but women and men are not the same, and even if raised in a completely gender neutral manner, it’s likely they would still aspire to different roles in society. 


Most registered nurses are women, although it’s more common to deal with a male nurse than it used to be. 


Most firefighters are men, but more women are breaking into this once male-dominated occupation.


Women are leading many important agricultural organizations. In the circles I travel, I interact with Patti Miller, president of the Canola Council of Canada, former senator JoAnne Buth, who now leads the Canadian International Grain Institute, and Chantelle Donahue, vice-president of corporate affairs for Cargill in Canada. All are amazing individuals.


Many farm organizations could benefit from more female involvement. So could all levels of government. The biggest gender gap within government seems to be rural municipalities, where it tends to remain an old-boys club. 


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We need to make sure that outdated gender attitudes aren’t a barrier.


When asked why he appointed women to half of his federal cabinet positions, prime minister Justin Trudeau responded by saying, “because it’s 2015.” That’s glib, but not really as progressive as it sounds.


Real progress would be half or more female cabinet ministers based on ability and suitability rather than an arbitrary quota.


It’s frightening to even comment on issues of gender equality be-cause over-the-top sensitivity and political correctness abound. 


However, Canadian society has become a great deal more inclusive on both gender and sexual orientation. In fact, it helps define us as Canadians.


Will all occupations and business management positions, including farms, someday be half men and half women? Unlikely. Different aspirations and interests will probably mean different male-female ratios in many aspects of society. 


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Should men and women have the opportunity to pursue whatever occupation or business they choose without discrimination? Absolutely. That’s the true test of gender equality within a society.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

  • Jen Christie

    I appreciate the balanced take on this issue, Kevin. Absolutely, there will always be roles different genders will be more likely to gravitate towards because we are different. Discriminating against either gender because they’ve chosen a nontraditional role should not be tolerated nor acceptable in 2016. I do think it disappointing though the assumption is still that the women in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet are there due to quote and not ability. In this PC member’s opinion, the strength of the Liberal candidates in this election was impressive. You’ve stated the lack of women in government is still an opportunity, but what’s to say the ones that are there aren’t as strong or stronger than their male counterparts. Just because there’s fewer, doesn’t mean they are any less qualified or deserving. Given the barrios they’ve likely overcome to win their seat, I don’t have an inkling of doubt they’re not up to the job or fully as qualified.