Does climatic crisis in Australia’s food bowl create a basis for change in agricultural gender relations?
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.
KeywordsGender Climate change Labor Tradition Resistance Family farming
- Alston, M. 1995. Women on the land: The hidden heart of rural Australia. Kensington: University of New South Wales Press.Google Scholar
- Alston, M. 2000. Breaking through the grass ceiling: Women, power, and leadership in rural organizations. Amsterdam: Harwood Publishers.Google Scholar
- Alston, M., and J. Kent. 2006. Impact of drought on rural and remote education access: A report to DEST and Rural Education Fund of FRRR. Wagga Wagga: Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University.Google Scholar
- Alston, M., J. Kent, and A. Kent. 2004. Social impacts of drought: Report to NSW Agriculture. Wagga Wagga: Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University.Google Scholar
- Alston, M., and K. Whittenbury. 2010. The social impacts of declining water availability and ongoing drought in the Murray-Darling Basin: Short report. Melbourne: Monash University Department of Social Work.Google Scholar
- Alston, M., and K. Witney-Soanes. 2008. Social impacts of drought and declining water availability in the Murray Darling Basin. Wagga Wagga: Institute of Land, Water, and Society, Charles Sturt University.Google Scholar
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2010. Year book Australia 2009–10. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/756B638E3405C430CA25773700169CB8. Accessed 30 November 2011.
- Bourdieu, P. 1991. Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Campbell, H. 2006. Real men, real locals, and real workers: Realizing masculinity in small-town New Zealand. In Country boys: Masculinity and rural life, ed. H. Campbell, M.M. Bell, and M. Finney, 87–104. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.Google Scholar
- Campbell, H., M.M. Bell, and M. Finney. 2006. Masculinity and rural life: An introduction. In Country boys: Masculinity and rural life, ed. H. Campbell, M.M. Bell, and M. Finney, 1–22. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.Google Scholar
- Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Courtenay, W.H. 2006. Rural men’s health: Situating risk in the negotiation of masculinity. In Country boys: Masculinity and rural life, ed. H. Campbell, M.M. Bell, and M. Finney, 139–158. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.Google Scholar
- Dankelman, I. 2010. Introduction: Exploring gender, environment, and climate change. In Gender and climate change: An introduction, ed. I. Dankelman, 1–20. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
- Dempsey, K. 1992. A man’s town: Inequality between women and men in rural Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Enarson, E. 2000. Gender and natural disasters. IPCRR working paper no 1. Geneva: International Labor Organization.Google Scholar
- Garnaut, R. 2008. The Garnaut climate change review: Final report. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Garnaut, R. 2011. Garnaut climate change review—Update. Australia in the global response to climate change. http://www.garnautreview.org.au/update-2011/about-review.html. Accessed 5 July 2011.
- Haraway, D. 1991. Simions, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Hirschman, A.O. 1970. Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia. 2011. Of drought and flooding rains: Inquiry into the impact of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Canberra: The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
- Ní Laoire, C. 2005. “You’re not a man at all!”: Masculinity, responsibility, and staying on the land in contemporary Ireland. Irish Journal of Sociology 14(2): 94–114.Google Scholar
- O’Brien, K. 2007. Commentary to the paper of Ursula Oswald spring, climate change: A gender perspective on human and state security approaches to global security. Paper presented at the international women leaders global security summit, 15–17 November, New York.Google Scholar
- Robertson, M. 2010. Agricultural productivity in Australia and New Zealand: Trends, constraints, and opportunities. Paper presented at Australian Agronomy conference proceedings, Food security from sustainable agriculture, ed. H. Dove and R.A. Culvenor. Proceedings of 15th agronomy conference 2010, 15–18 November 2010, Lincoln, New Zealand. http://www.regional.org.au/au/asa/2010/plenary/climate-change/7402_robertsonmj.htm. Accessed 30 November 2011.
- Shortall, S. 2006a. Economic status and gender roles. In Rural gender relations: Issues and case studies, ed. B. Bock and S. Shortall, 340–355. London: CAB International.Google Scholar
- Stokes, C., and S.M. Howden (eds.). 2010. Adapting agriculture to climate change: Preparing Australian agriculture, forestry, and fisheries for the future. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.Google Scholar
- Whatmore, S. 1991. Farming women: Gender, work, and family enterprise. Houndmills: Macmillan.Google Scholar