Finding ‘Room to Manoeuvre’: Gender, agency and the family farm
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Byrne, Anne, Duvvury, Nata, Macken-Walsh, Áine, & Watson, Tanya. (2014). Finding ‘Room to Manoeuvre’: Gender, agency and the family farm. In Barbara Pini, Berit Brandth, & Jo Little (Eds.), Feminisms and Ruralities. USA: Rowman and Littlefield.
Women on Irish farms have been a subject of feminist analysis over the past two decades. Salient themes in the literature on farm women have been the constraints of patriarchal agriculture (O'Hara 1997; Shortall, 2004), the invisibility of women's farm work (O Hara 1998), gender inequalities in ownership of farm assets (Watson et al. 2009), increasing professionalisation of farmwomen outside of agriculture (Kelly and Shortall 2002; Hanrahan 2007); and the need to investigate and theorise property ownership as an emerging concern. For Shortall (2004) land ownership is the critical factor underpinning male domination of the occupational category farmer , determining the power differentials between men and women in Irish family farming. Within this research nexus, the central concern of our paper is to explore how women s property ownership acts to disrupt gender relations within family farms in Ireland. Recent evidence suggests that gender inequality in property ownership continues to be a reality within Ireland. The 1991 Census of Agriculture indicated that only ten percent of women owned farms, with more than half (56 percent) inheriting farms on the death of their spouses, positioning widows as the most likely group to be property owners (NDP GEU 2003, 22). The 2010 Census indicates that women own just over 12 percent of farms, representing little historical change. Despite this continued restricted access and limited opportunities for women to acquire ownership of farms and farmland, we regard instances where farmwomen do own property in their own right critical for understanding future implications for farm family agriculture. Does women s property ownership disturb gender relations on the farm? If so, what are the pathways of the impact on gender relations? Does it enhance agency for women in decisions made about the family farm? How is the potential discomfort of the woman property owner as an independent agent negotiated? In selected cases of farmwomen s experiences of ownership and management of farm property, we examine women s agency in the context of the complex relational dynamics that take place in family farming. Reflecting on the importance of choice, we use an empirical approach that is centred on biographical narrative analysis to explore how women negotiate farm family dynamics, gendered (and generational) power relations. We understand gender as a sociological and social identity category that can be analysed, disturbed and disrupted and is constituted and reconstituted within power relations (Pini 2008). Taking note of O Hara s (1998, 22) claim that there is always room to manoeuvre within the frame of family farming, and understanding women as active participants in consciously shaping own lives and identities, our analytical concern is primarily with the experiences of farmwomen as they negotiate the management and ownership of family farm property in contemporary Ireland.
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