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Does climatic crisis in Australia's food bowl create a basis for change in agricultural gender relations?

  • Year: 2013
  • Author: Alston, Margaret; Whittenbury, Kerri
  • Journal Name: Agriculture and Human Values
  • Journal Number: 30.1
  • Publisher: Springer Science & Business Media
  • Published Location: Netherlands
  • ISBN: 0889048X
  • Country: Australia

An ongoing crisis in Australian agriculture resulting from climate crises including drought, decreasing irrigation water, more recent catastrophic flooding, and an uncertain policy environment is reshaping gender relations in the intimate sphere of the farm family. Drawing on research conducted in the Murray-Darling Basin area of Australia we ask the question: Does extreme hardship/climate crises change highly inequitable gender relations in agriculture? As farm income declines, Australian farm women are more likely to be working off farm for critical family income while men continue to work on farm often in circumstances of damaged landscapes, rising debt, and limited production. This paper examines the way gender relations are being renegotiated in a time of significant climate crisis. Our research suggests that climate crises have indeed led to changes in gender relations and that some changes are unexpected. Whereas one would logically assume that women’s enhanced economic contribution would increase their power in gender negotiations, we argue that this does not necessarily occur because their contribution is viewed as a farm survival strategy. Men are committed to prioritizing the farm and view women’s income generating work as critical to this purpose and yet, paradoxically, long for a return to traditional farm roles. We find that women are actively resisting traditional gender relations by reshaping a role for themselves beyond the farm—in the process moving physically and mentally away from a farm family ideology, questioning gender inequalities, and by extension their relationships.

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