Gender and farming in Ethiopia: an exploration of discourses and implications for policy & research

Working Paper 84
Asrat Ayalew Gella and Getnet Tadele

There is growing realisation that gender matters in African agriculture. However, a comprehensive and properly contextualised analysis of the nature of gender and gender relations as well as the way it comes into play in agriculture is lacking in much of the scholarly and policy debate surrounding the issue. The positioning of men and women in relation to farming, the spaces they are and are not allowed to occupy, the embodied nature of agricultural activities, and their implications to the future of African agriculture and rural youth are among the issues which have attracted little attention thus far. In this paper, we explore the utility of these issues in understanding gender issues within the context of small scale family farming in Ethiopia. Based on two qualitative studies of three rural farming villages and the existing literature, we explore the cultural and highly symbolic construction of ‘the farmer’ as an essentially masculine subject in Ethiopia, and reflect on the reasons behind the continued persistence of this construction and its implications for policy and further research.

We argue that, due to its likely origin and long history of use in the region, the plough occupies a pivotal and privileged place in the history of farming in Ethiopia. Its practical and symbolic importance and its placement in the exclusive domain of men have resulted in the construction of a particularly male centric notion of what it means to be a farmer and who can be considered one. Although it has been argued that men have certain physical advantages that explain this male centric dominance, we suggest that notions of embodiment have better explanatory power since there appear to be important differences in the way men’s and women’s bodies are perceived in relation to farming implements and activities, on the basis of which narratives of what they can and cannot do are constructed. We discuss the implications of this highly gendered construction for the entry routes of young men and women into farming and their relative positioning afterwards. Finally, we reflect on the implications of our findings for current policy and suggest directions for further policy debate and research.


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