For your next meal, take a second and look at your plate before you start eating. Can you imagine what that plate would look like if women stopped working for a day? That plate would look almost empty. Forget the grains, the vegetables, and the meat. You can even forget about the glass of milk next to it. Without women’s labours, over half of the food we eat would disappear. According to FAO, women represent between 60% and 90% of agricultural labor in developing countries.
The role of women in agriculture has been heavily discussed around the world, and in this discussion, many assumptions, false imageries, and even myths have come up. But many new questions, ideas, and parameters have also arisen. Today we honor those new ways of thinking about women’s roles in agriculture.
We know that women are essential to rural economies around the world and that they are responsible for almost half of the world’s farming labour. But we have yet to acknowledge several aspects of their work, especially those related to household management, health, hygiene, nutrition, and subsistence. Unpaid labour and the lack of land property rights are some of the key aspects of gender inequality and in Sistema.bio we believe in the huge impact we can make by improving the conditions of women in agriculture.
Through the years, we have found that addressing gender equity and equality through clean technology is only possible if we recognize that our male and female clients prioritize different benefits, that our male and female promoters relate differently to the issues, and that different women have different needs and opportunities. For this International Women’s Day, we want to look into five of the many lessons that the women we work with have taught us about the benefits of biogas.
1. With biogas, rural women have more time to tend for their crops
Because of economic inequalities between rural and urban communities, most rural families have to separate in order to make a living. This means that, given socially constructed gender roles, rural women end up in charge of entire households and farms when men migrate to work in cities. As Sanchi and several other women have taught us, it’s extremely difficult to deal with the complexities of running both a home and a farm all by one’s self.
In developing countries, rural women are in charge not only of cooking, cleaning and caring for the children, but also of obtaining the resources needed to fulfill their tasks. This means gathering dry wood or coal, lighting a fire, waiting for it to be ready, cooking and cleaning up -all of this to make breakfast. And then doing the same for lunch and dinner, not to mention drinking water or tea. When you replace solid fuels with biogas, female farmers save enough time to tend for their crops and attend other farming chores, lightening their burden and even benefiting their economy.
2. The savings that come from having a biogas system can have huge impacts on a family’s history
According to the World Bank, over 700 million Africans use solid fuels as their primary fuel source, and 98% of rural African kitchens depend primarily on wood and coal for cooking. This is not only bad for health (especially for women, since they are the most affected by indoor pollution), but also for the family economy. Even though current methodologies in the study of poverty fall short when it comes to looking into poverty’s gender and age gaps, one thing is for sure: poor economy affects women and children far differently than men. Just think of who gets to work, who gets to study and who gets to make decisions. When solid fuels are eliminated from the equation, families have more money to spend on what matters: health, education and growth for all. In Marie’s eyes, this is the most valuable benefit of using biogas.
3. Training in biodigester maintenance means independent farmers, regardless of their gender
In traditional narratives, men are seen as the ones in charge of the farm and women in charge of the home. But reality shows us that farm work is distributed almost equally between men and women, especially in small family farms. Female activities typically include tending animals, collecting fuel and water, selling at the market, milking goats and cattle and weeding. Whenever a family obtains a biodigester, we make sure that everyone is trained to perform maintenance on their system, regardless of gender, experience or education. Farmers like Prajakta are able to care for leaks, obstructions and many other issues they encounter when using their biodigester, thus enhancing their independence and allowing farm work to remain equal to all.
4. Bioslurry helps farmers feed their families
When talking about traditionally female farm work, we have mentioned weeding, milking and tending animals. But what about all the activities they do relating to family care, health, hygiene, and nutrition? Family farms, especially in rural areas, depend on their crops for subsistence.
Female farmers are traditionally in charge of managing the resources to make sure that all family members and farm workers are properly fed, and that all the produce is consumed before it goes bad, not to mention making sure everything is clean and properly cooked. In Sistema.bio, we see those chores as equally important to, say, planting and harvesting the food. Farm work is hard work, and it takes a lot of energy to get everything done. Why then should we not see caregiving as important work? As Lorena has taught us, our organic fertilizer produces bigger and better produce, and therefore yummier and healthier food for her and her four children.
5. The economic benefit of using biogas ripples through whole communities
Rural women are in charge of household management, and this often means they not only need to work in their farms but also pursue other livelihood strategies. Businesswomen work hard to bring food home, clean it and cook it. Not only that, but they often join forces with other women to help their local economies. Such is the case of Mildred and her coworkers, who run a tortillería (tortilla shop) in Teabo, Yucatán. Their tortillería uses biogas to cook, saving on expensive LP gas and therefore making tortillas cheaper to produce. When clean technology is introduced to local farms and businesses, the whole community benefits: cheaper tortillas, cheaper milk, cheaper meat. Businesswomen win, the environment wins, we all win.
Today, we stop and think of girls’ and women’s rights and think of ways to make things better. At Sistema.bio we believe change can only be achieved with bottom-up and top-down approaches, in which each of us as individuals play an important role. We must work at changing the difference in conditions, opportunities, and resources if we are ever to change systematic inequalities between men and women.
It’s all a team effort. We work for change through sustainability and economic growth. Today we invite you to ask yourself what you, with your own resources, can do for gender equality.