Moving beyond Binary Thinking: reconceptualizing gender in agriculture and food systems 

Ranjitha Puskur, CGIAR GENDER Platform, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)


Janwillem Liebrand, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Expert Women in Development: Tracing Technology, Masculinity and Race in International Collaboration in Nepal
In this presentation, I take one of the classical questions of feminist technology studies as the starting point: Why are there so few expert women in technology? In promoting (gender) inclusive development, the domain of engineering and technology is marked as masculine, and other domains of development, such as nutrition, health care and sanitation, as not-masculine or feminine. Through this division, structural (gender) inequalities in development practice and research tend to be validated rather than challenged. In my presentation, I present an analysis of this gendered (and racial) dynamic and I discuss implications for today's development approaches. I focus on the history of Nepal's rural development and I use a critical reading of policy and research documents, from the 1950s onwards, to analyse what activities with regard to technology transfer and development policy, were marked as suitable for professional women. My analysis shows that professional women in technology have always worked in rural and agricultural development alongside and indeed majority-male professionals, but that they hardly ‘progress’ because they are dealing with a persuasive 'process' in development in which women's assumed shared experiences and interests are romanticised, and in which policy solutions are supported that assume a relationship between female embodiment and representation of women's interests. As a result, more than five decades of debate on women/gender in development has produced a lot of work for so-called women/gender specialists, but it has not challenged structural gender inequities in processes of promoting development.


Marie-Charlotte Buisson, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

Women’s empowerment and the will to change
A static and apolitical framing of women's empowerment has dominated the development sector. We assess the pertinence of considering a new variable, the will to change, to reintroduce dynamic and political processes into the way empowerment is framed and measured. Using a household survey based on the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) and qualitative data collected in Nepal, we analyze how critical consciousness influences women's will to change and how this process is affected by visible agency, social structures, and individual determinants. A virtuous circle emerges from the analysis: women with higher visible agency and higher critical consciousness are more willing to gain agency in some, but not all, of the WEAI empowerment domains. These findings support the design of development programs combining interventions increasing visible agency with interventions raising gender critical consciousness to reduce gender inequalities. Through this analysis, we advance current conceptualizations of empowerment processes by establishing that the will to change as an indicator offers valuable insights into the dynamic, relational and politic nature of women's empowerment. Our results finally argue for improving the internal validity of women's empowerment measurement tools by identifying culturally and contextually relevant indicators.


Sophie von Redecker, Kassel University, Germany

Queer and agriculture. or: queer agriculture.
The talk will combine the fields of queer theory and agricultural science. Thus, the traditional binary between so called natural science and the so-called humanities get questioned. The talk will be based on two documentaries of queer farming in the US as well as on insights from the movement of LGBTIQ* people within the movement of La Via Campesina. Thus, the research will not only show how diverse rural livelihoods already are but also problematize how queer people has their struggles (or not) to be "out" in the countryside. Thereby the common narrative of queer and diverse cities on the one side and conservative and mono"cultural" countrysides on the other side get deconstructed. Starting from there the research also asks how farming contexts need to change to bring more people to the land. What do queer people need to feel free to move (back) to the land? Moreover the talk will focus on the field of queer ecologies and will analyse how nature shows itself queerness and stabilizes non hegemonic perspectives and ways of living. Following this, nature can also be seen as a safe place for LGBTIQ* people. Thus, the research is a radical way of unlearning normative ways of thinking about farming families, rural contexts and nature/cultures.


Valentina Peveri, The American University of Rome (AUR), Italy

Multispecies perspectives for cultivating diversity and equality: reflections on ‘species inclusivity’ in gender research in agriculture
In viewing nature as a resource for humanity, mainstream narratives around food/agricultural/rural research fail to recognize the agency and dynamics of non-human life forms as being intrinsically entangled in humans’ everyday lives. Yet, women play major roles and possess a wealth of knowledge in fostering and maintaining multispecies communities that are rooted in a less anthropocentric vision of farming practices and the natural environment. To illustrate the untapped potential of multifunctional mosaics, I will start from the case study of a perennial root tuber crop in Southwestern Ethiopia, and further expand into the related ramifications of home gardening, polycultural farming, and multistoried landscapes. This talk will ultimately explore if and how a more species inclusive approach can cross-pollinate gender in agriculture research and help cultivate both sustainable agri-food systems and gender equality. A combination of feminist and multispecies frameworks will be discussed to map out what methods exist that may reflect species inclusivity. It is argued that debunking binary thinking should be applied to gender as well as the human-animal and human-plant divides. The ecosystemically-related zoonotic origin of the Covid-19 pandemic represents a powerful hint at reconsidering what a multispecies perspective means for environmental development agendas. Species inclusivity would require a rethinking of received wisdoms, and response-ability in exploring and experimenting with the counter-narratives of local actors who frame their daily interactions with natural resources not only in terms of gains or losses (resource-based), but also of human flourishing as fundamentally dependent on other species (relation-based).