Articles | Volume 69, issue 4
Special issue:
Standard article
11 Dec 2014
Standard article |  | 11 Dec 2014

New ruralities – old gender dynamics? A reflection on high-value crop agriculture in the light of the feminisation debates

S. Bieri

Abstract. While a remarkable continuity in smallholder agricultural production has been identified, the shift from subsistence orientation towards more wage dependence appears in a different light when analysed under a gender perspective. "Feminisation" has been a catchphrase to characterise some of these processes; however, the debate has been subject to overgeneralisation, and can only inadequately grasp the gender dynamics in what has been referred to as "new ruralities". Illustrated for high-value crop production as an expression of agricultural transition in the Global South, this contribution offers a critical account of the feminisation thesis. Instead of discarding the notion of feminisation, it advocates a reassessment of its potential as a comprehensive framework against which empirical findings can be reflected. While conventional uses of the feminisation thesis have, in their great majority, come up with the conclusion that for women it can always only get worse, I propose a perspective which reveals gains and risks and how they are shared between men and women as they engage in new agricultural labour markets. This perspective rests on a methodology for case-based, comparative studies developed in this paper as a contribution for assessing the nature of agricultural transition and to investigate the qualitative change associated with new ruralities. A distinctive appreciation of the substance of agricultural change for different members of the rural society – namely men and women, but also different men, and different women – is the premise for overcoming barriers to shared development, and for framing effective governance in the context of global development.

Short summary
What does change in agriculture hold in store for men and women? This paper proposes a methodological framework to assess the de- and recomposition of gender roles in the context of agricultural transformation. The methodology allows for reassessing the question of whether opportunities emerging from export orientation offer pathways to women’s empowerment, to gender equality and improved well-being, or if these changes result in more obligations to be carried on female and on older shoulders.
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