The Women that Feed Us: Gender Empowerment of Farmer Women

International Women’s Day spotlights the sacrifices and achievements of women since 1909 in the United States, when woman workers protested in New York for better work conditions. This was the first movement of many to follow. Today, conditions are better than women in the past could have imagined, but there is still a long road.

In the agri-food sector, when I hear about ‘women’s rights’, I always remember an old picture of my grandmother (from the 1930’s) in a small village near Serres. The women were sitting in a big warehouse processing tobacco leaves, putting the leaves though thick threads, in order to dry them out – the ‘veloniasma kapnou’. She gave birth two of her children in the field, while she was working. Life was truly harsh and this ‘history’ is not about ‘way back when’ – that was just two generations ago.

In the 1950’s in Greece – but also globally, women had a truly hard life. This is believed to be part of the reason for the ‘the genes of longevity’ in many areas like Epirus or some Greek islands.

The day of rural women started very early, taking care of the house and children. Breastfeeding was the only way to feed babies back then. Some of them carried their babies into the fields. Also, they had many things to prepare before going to the field, like the horses, the lunch for the break – ‘kolatsio’ – and many more. Afterwards, worked many hours in the hot sun. Gathering the crops or weeding was ‘women’s work’. In the afternoon, returning home was usually on foot – for long distances – because in case there was a mule or a horse, it was usually loaded with the production. Finally, processing the raw materials was also a ‘woman’s thing’ because it needed delicate hands. In the night, the women sat all together after dinner and processed the production. This was their ‘rest’ and ‘socializing’. These women were not just feeding their own children but making food for all Greeks and their children.

In Greece, but also in many other developed and developing countries, data and records about all this ‘women’s work’ is not available. The situation is complicated since women were not considered to be part of the rural workforce. This was similar to the point of view that housework is not ‘work’. So, scientific research about the lives of women back then is very difficult to find.

Today, things continue to be very hard for farmer women – but conditions are much better than in the past. Women in Greece and many other countries are part of powerful cooperatives sending products around the globe. Many of them are the head of their farm businesses. But the reality, through all these decades, is that while our mothers raised us, but “farm women fed the World.”

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD in Agricultural Economics, Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.


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