Rural Gender Relations: Issues and Case Studies

Article excerpt

RURAL GENDER RELATIONS: ISSUES AND CASE STUDIES Bock, B. and Shortall, S. (Eds.) (2006) Wallingford UK: CABI Publishing. ISBN 0-85199-030-4 pp. 372 RRP 55.00 paperback.

Feminist research has been part of my life since 1986 when I read Barbara Rogers' The Domestication of Women while working in an East African rural development project. Because the men were mine workers in South Africa, or part of the bandidos armados in Renamo, or solthers in the government army, women dominated the fields, the markets, the villages, providing food in a time of drought, war and famine, working endlessly. Against this background of unceasing and overwhelming societal challenge, I pondered what it meant to be a feminist researcher and worker. Writing 20 years later, Barbara Pini, to elucidate the nature and need for such research, reflected on five key principles: 'a focus on gender, giving value to women's experience, rejecting the split between object and subject, emphasising personal empowerment and focusing on political change' (2003:429). Sometime after the surfacing of our consciousness of a wodd-wide systematic exclusion and/or oppression, between Rogers and Pini, feminist research on women's lives was subsumed into feminist research on gender. As Rebecca Grant wrote, 'Gender roles are archetypal models of how humans function in society. These roles reflect the way that humans understand their place in the world in intellectual, social and political terms' (1991). And so, as Pini (2003, p. 420) notes, quoting Lather (1988, p. 57), 'to do feminist research is to put the social construction of gender at the centre of one's inquiry'. With these ideas in mind I opened Rural gender relations: Issues and case stuthes.

The editors, Bock and Shortall aim to demonstrate 'that gender relations are not only changing as a result of agncultural and rural development; they are themselves important driving forces of change' (p. 1). To understand change, the reader is to note the importance of power, difference and diversity, identity construction and political and social life.

In Part 1, 'Gender and Farming', different nation-based responses to policy and markets provide an opportunity to reflect that focusing on gender and valuing women's experiences does not solve the socio-economic decline suffered by rural families. It does reinforce the multitude of women's responses to agricultural change - acknowledging complex relationships and noting the pervasiveness of corporations, and the declining interest in 'the rural' from centralised governments. There is the sense that overall, while we know more about women's lives in rural society, we are unable to effect policy or change that will sustain their farms or families. Though informative, this section leaves unanswered many questions about the context of rural and economic declining conditions. If the argument is that the conditions diat result from economies of scale provide opportunities for women to operate differendy, it does not go as far as to suggest that they might do farming or live 'rurality' differendy in the twenty-first century.

Part 2 'Gender and Rural Migration' has three chapters on the increasing 'traffic' between rural and urban environments. An Australian study focuses on the externalities that lead to selective migration patterns as a consequence of weather and economic pressure. A Norwegian study of what teens at comprehensive schools think about rural versus urban life, suggests that despite enhanced policy support for agrarian socialism, urban teens' images of rural life are simplistic, that even rural teens have a preference for urban life, and that girls feel significantly more pressured in rural environments. A Greek case study argues that entry into the EU has conflated apparent improvements in women's roles on farm with who actually benefits and describes a domino effect that has women replacing men as farm managers (and men going off-farm to be labour in cities), impoverished immigrant labour replacing Greek women's on-farm labour, and poorimmigrant women taking on the mostbasic of farm jobs to sustain themselves. …