Gender Fellows support research on gender differences in agriculture

Amy Duke
October 02, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While conducting research on cacao farms in his native country of Colombia last year, Daniel Guarín-Estrada observed significant differences in how women farmers were treated compared to their male counterparts.

“Women do most of the work on the farm, but they have serious disadvantages,” said the doctoral candidate in soil science in Penn State’s College Agricultural Sciences. “Most women in cacao farming have no access to financial resources, nor do they own the land. They also are less educated and have limited access to extension and soil education to improve their crops and prevent soil erosion or pollution.”

Guarín-Estrada said he wants to use his natural science background to “help narrow the gender gap and help women in conditions of disadvantage.” One way for him to do that, he contends, is through his experiences as a member of the Gender Fellows Cohort, which began last fall under the auspices of the college’s Gender Equity through Agricultural Research and Education (GEARE) initiative.

The student cohort examines gender equity in rural sociology, soil science, plant science and entomology as part of the International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) dual-title graduate degree program, explained Paige Castellanos, director of GEARE.

“This cohort is contributing valuable insights into how to improve the lives of women around the world by supporting their participation in agriculture,” she said. “The students’ blended disciplines and experiences will result in actionable solutions to gender inequality.”

In addition to Guarín-Estrada, the core cohort students are rural sociology graduate students Alfredo Reyes, Megan Griffin and Hazel Velasco, and soil science graduate student Jhony Benavides. Together, they contribute to GEARE’s research portfolio, which includes recent and ongoing U.S. Agency for International Development-funded research on gender and agriculture in Honduras, Cambodia and Ghana.

The Gender Fellows also are examining the participation of men and women in global food systems, a focus of the USAID 2018 Feed the Future Learning Agenda's Gender and Women's Empowerment program, said Leif Jensen, distinguished professor of rural sociology and demography.

For example, Reyes has been working on a project that uses a gendered economy perspective to understand and promote women's participation in the horticulture value chain in western Honduras. Specifically, Reyes has been looking at the time-use differences between female and male producers.

Griffin, who also is pursuing a doctorate in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, is a research assistant on a pilot study on women employed in packing plants in the mushroom industry. Additionally, she co-authored a book chapter, “Gender and Precarious Work in Agriculture,” for the Routledge Handbook of Gender and Agriculture.

Megan Griffin

Gender Fellow Megan Griffin participated in the 100,000 Strong, Partners of the Americas student exchange in Colombia. 

IMAGE: Paige Castellanos

“If we can embed intersectional and critical theories of feminism into our research on agricultural development, not only will our work have a greater impact, we will become more reflective and avoid reproducing mistakes of the past,” Griffin said. “The cohort has been a great space to get feedback on our ongoing projects and to discuss readings pertinent to all of us.”

Benevides is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at University Park on a nutrient-management modeling project that will have a global impact, while one of Velasco’s projects is examining how indigenous Lenca women in rural Honduras have coped with the rapid modernization of agriculture in their livelihood strategies.

Due to COVID-19, the cohort adjusted its travel and in-person meeting plans but has adapted to those challenges with positivity, noted Jensen. “I am incredibly proud of these students and their accomplishments,” he said. “Each member’s personal accounting of accomplishments and goals has gone a long way in building group cohesion and has generated interdisciplinary reflection.”

By design, the cohort is expanding to include students from across the college, including Kait Fischer, Michaela Hoffelmeyer, Sovanneary Huot, Emily Southard, Forrest Stagner, Hannah Whitley, Stephania Sandoval, Isabella Swyst and Emma Wallace.

Several GEARE faculty members mentor and support these students, including Mary Barbercheck and Ed Rajotte from the Department of Entomology; Rick Bates from the Department of Plant Science; Kathleen Sexsmith, Carolyn Sachs, Ann Tickamyer, Leland Glenna and Janelle Larson from the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education; Patrick Drohan, from the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; and Melanie Miller Foster of the Office of International Programs.

The cohort is funded, in part, by interdisciplinary graduate assistantships sponsored by the Strategic Networks and Initiatives Program of the college’s Office for Research and Graduate Education.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 02, 2020