For the first time ever, all inductees to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame this year are women.
They join only five other females already among the hall’s 210 members. What’s that? Only five in the 57-year history of the hall?
It is true.
Robynne Anderson, an agriculture consultant and publisher, Patty Jones, a livestock photographer, and Jean Szkotnicki, president of the Canadian Animal Health Institute, are the three 2017 entrants. They are deserving recipients who have contributed much to the industry, as have all those named to the hall, and we congratulate them.
Considering the role women have played in agriculture since farming began, it should be commonplace to welcome women to places of particular honour in the industry.
And yet, it is not.
By making special note of this year’s unique slate, are we advancing the cause to acknowledge women in the field? Or would it best go unremarked upon as evidence that deserving people are being inducted regardless of their sex?
Yes, you can over-think these things. It is easy to do, when it comes to gender politics.
Viewed through today’s lens, everyone in the agricultural industry can legitimately question why there are so few women in the hall. Even a cursory examination reveals that today they are in positions of power and influence with agricultural businesses, agencies, commissions, boards and all levels of government.
However, no one can deny that agriculture has long been a male-dominated pursuit. The need for physical strength and the traditional roles of women made it so in times past. Mechanization, technology, computerization and the evolution of societal mores have fashioned a gradual change.
Women now make up a higher percentage of attendees at field days and farm meetings. There is a higher awareness and lower tolerance for the dreaded and patronizing “man-splaining.”
Men still outnumber women at most farm events, but demographics are a factor. There are more male than female farmers. There’s rarely a lineup for the women’s washrooms as there is at most public gatherings of any length.
Women are involved in every facet of agriculture, and happily more of them are willing to acknowledge their role, their skills and their contribution to the industry.
Part of the change is generational; gender equality is expected today, if not always available.
Events like the Advancing Women in Agriculture conferences, grazing schools for women and similar promotions have proven to be empowering for many.
These are tremendous assets, and the need or desire for their existence shows there is still work to do in providing women a sense of equal place among agriculture’s many facets.
Women are as much the face of farming as the men with whom they work.
It may be a stretch to say that this year’s Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee slate is a turning point in how women in agriculture are viewed.
But maybe it is. We hope so.