Women Who Dig

Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World

By Sarah Carter

by Trina Moyles
with photographs by K.J. Dakin
University of Regina Press
2018/$34.95/300 pp.

In this beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book, journalist Trina Moyles addresses the links between patriarchy and agriculture in Canada, the US, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, India and Uganda. The work is based on three years of interviews with more than 140 women in their farms, gardens and homes. A persistent refrain is that women are farmers everywhere, particularly where agriculture is small-scale, but are rarely regarded as “farmers” and seldom own the land they work. But everywhere Moyles visited, women were resisting the forces preventing them from growing food. The title is taken from the term for the women farmers of Uganda, the abahingi mukazi—“women who dig.” Girls and women do the majority of farm work in Uganda but do not own land; rather they work on their husband’s land.

Moyles was inspired by her Irish great-grandmother Eleanor, who farmed near Wolseley, Saskatchewan, from 1925 with her husband through the First World War soldier settlement program (in which the federal government purloined land from First Nations reserves). During the Second World War Eleanor farmed alone, as did many other women. Moyles writes she was a “hard-working, capable woman farmer,” not a “farmerette,” a term used in both wars to feminize and diminish the work women did. Learning about Eleanor, Moyles decided to study the voices and experiences of female farmers today. Are their efforts still being overlooked and underestimated? The answer is “yes,” but it is a complex and diverse story, and the author is aware there’s so much more to find out. The chapter on Canada, for example, might have continued with the theme of Indigenous women farmers mentioned in the introduction, interviewing women involved in vertical and organic farming on prairie First Nation reserves.

Moyles’s critiques of the patriarchal foundations of Indigen-ous societies at times resemble those of Canada’s Victorian-era visitors and settlers. Abusive, intoxicated husbands abound in the chapters, though with notable exceptions such as the men in Cuba who recognize that “a woman-centred agriculture is a sustainable agriculture.” But the negative descriptions of abusive husbands are taken from the words of the women themselves who face violence and insecurity. As Moyles writes, “I couldn’t ignore what I heard from the women.”

The book concludes with a call to world leaders to heed the advice of the United Nations to assist small-scale agriculture. It ends with the hope that “women will change food systems. They will feed the world. They will remake history.” This is an important and inspiring book that deserves a wide readership.

Sarah Carter is a professor and H.M. Tory Chair at the U of A.

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