Theme 6: Pastoralism--Oral Sessions

Description

We explore the conceptual and empirical limitations of the question about “the role of women in rural livestock production” as well as the widespread assumption that women in livestock are subsistence or smallholder farmers. While this is correct in many situations, “essentialist” development discourses often disregard new demographic trends and the heterogeneity of live-stock production systems. Our research, which focuses on the livelihoods of women involved with livestock production in the Pampas’ grasslands of Brazil, proposes: 1) to critically analyse some of the most widely spread assumptions about women involved in beef livestock production, including the belief that women are naturally protective of the environment, or that they need to be “empowered” through the assignment of even more functions (workload) to thrive, and 2) to identify some of the common traits that our studied women do, in fact, share. Through a mixed-methods approach combining a literature review with in-depth interviews and participant observation, we dismantled some myths while confirming other common traits (only valid to the cases studied). Shared traits are more related to what women do under certain circumstances (family situation, division of labour, etc.) than to what women are by definition and include the responsible use of credit lines; the positive cost-benefit equation of respecting women’s right to own land and cattle and to make their own productive decisions; the demo-graphic contribution of rural women as a response to the increasing masculinisation and ageing of the rural population in the Pampas; the importance of supporting sustainable livestock production strategies vis-à-vis the dramatic land use and climate changes impacting the region, and the fact that women, in spite of many advancements, only take the lead when there is no father, husband or brother around to dispute power.

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The Role of Women in Rural Livestock: Which Women? Which Livestock?

We explore the conceptual and empirical limitations of the question about “the role of women in rural livestock production” as well as the widespread assumption that women in livestock are subsistence or smallholder farmers. While this is correct in many situations, “essentialist” development discourses often disregard new demographic trends and the heterogeneity of live-stock production systems. Our research, which focuses on the livelihoods of women involved with livestock production in the Pampas’ grasslands of Brazil, proposes: 1) to critically analyse some of the most widely spread assumptions about women involved in beef livestock production, including the belief that women are naturally protective of the environment, or that they need to be “empowered” through the assignment of even more functions (workload) to thrive, and 2) to identify some of the common traits that our studied women do, in fact, share. Through a mixed-methods approach combining a literature review with in-depth interviews and participant observation, we dismantled some myths while confirming other common traits (only valid to the cases studied). Shared traits are more related to what women do under certain circumstances (family situation, division of labour, etc.) than to what women are by definition and include the responsible use of credit lines; the positive cost-benefit equation of respecting women’s right to own land and cattle and to make their own productive decisions; the demo-graphic contribution of rural women as a response to the increasing masculinisation and ageing of the rural population in the Pampas; the importance of supporting sustainable livestock production strategies vis-à-vis the dramatic land use and climate changes impacting the region, and the fact that women, in spite of many advancements, only take the lead when there is no father, husband or brother around to dispute power.