Meet Alice Burwell who shares a passion to make a difference and fight for gender equity

In partnership with Corteva Agriscience we invited emerging leaders in the agriculture sector to share with us what drives them. We also asked them to tells us if they had a magic wand what would they change in the agriculture sector.

Our guest post today comes from vet in training Alice Burwell. Alice shares a passion to make a difference and fight for gender equity that has been a consistent theme in our 2020 stories

“Wow, you want to be a vet. You must really love animals”.

Yes, this is partly true. But this is only part of my story. I would always make it very clear that I wanted to be a preventive healthcare vet for large farm animals and help livestock farmers set up their businesses in a way that keeps animals healthy and prevent health problems in herds whenever anyone asked, even as a seven-year-old.

Yet as I grew up I found myself having to justify my potential value to the industry because I am a young female?

I  was determined to show female vets are just as enthusiastic about working outdoors with large animals as male vets.

Why should this matter?

If people work hard to gain knowledge they can contribute to industry, they deserve to be treated with respect for their knowledge and contributions regardless of their background, degree or gender.

What do the girls in the pink vests in this image have in common?

Passion is the common denominator, not gender here.  Yes, we are all female. Yes, we are all aspiring rural veterinarians. And the reason we were selected as the student delegates for the Australian Cattle Vets conference in 2020 is because of our burning passion for the livestock industry.

Veterinary science used to be a male dominated sector and I am proud to be part of the generation that is changing this.

Where did this burning passion for the livestock industries stem from? For me, it was the days I would spend growing up helping my father and grandfather in the lambing sheds or feeding calves like these ones

I have always been so determined to make my mark on the livestock industries as a professional and have always had an interest in the wider agricultural sector. The management from paddock to plate and from calf to cow is what excites me. I am becoming a veterinarian so that I can help improve the health, welfare and productivity of our livestock industries through producer education and adoption of new research, at herd levels.

Today veterinarians provide holistic farm services and have broad skills in farm consultancy and management as well as providing technical skills and advice on animal health and welfare.

As a vet I aspire to provide the farmers I work with exceptional value from improvements in animal health and management behind the farm gate as well as support them to optimise the value they get from their farming production systems.

The challenge of showing farmers my  worth is a both a daunting and  exhilarating task. I have studied veterinary science and participated in many extra-curricular activities so that I can play my part in making the agricultural industry sustainable for generations to come. There is nothing more exciting for me than helping producers turn calves into productive, healthy cows that are the building blocks for a producer’s successful business. Regardless of the species, it is the full circle of producing profitable, healthy beef/dairy cattle and sheep in a sustainable and welfare conscious manner that excites me.

As an industry we have many opportunities to showcase our industry is gender inclusive and ensure veterinarians are valued for the diverse skills and knowledge they bring to the farm team.

“As a rural vet you feel connected with the people you work with on farm and you are also an essential part of rural communities. Its a career where you have a strong sense of purpose and you get up everyday knowing you are making a difference”

Meet Francesca Earp who is hungry for equality

In partnership with Corteva Agriscience we invited young people in agriculture to share with us their journey to a career in the agriculture sector. We asked them to show us what they stood for and if they could wave a magic wand what would they change.

Today we meet Francesca Earp  who shares with us her

  • Belief that gender inclusivity is the future of food security.
  • Young people can contribute to international agriculture
  • Empowering women benefits everyone

The is Francesca’s story ……

In November of 2018, less than a week after my final exam for my undergraduate degree, I packed my bags and moved to Laos. As my friends prepared for a uni free summer, I purchased a pair of zip-off pants. While my classmates worried about their final exam results, I worried about the waterproofing of my steel-capped boots. When everyone else my age was wondering what they were going to do with their lives, I unbeknownst to myself had already started.

I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when I decided to enrol in my Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience, even though the closest I’d gotten to livestock was milking a cow at the Easter show. Despite my lack of experience, I’d somewhat made a name for myself as the girl who loved adventure and getting her hands dirty. During my degree, I spent my holidays in South Africa at a White Shark research centre or as a farmhand at a Goat farm in Rural NSW

 Francesca on a Rural placement on a goat farm in Wellington, NSW.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree, but I did know I was interested in the relationships between communities and their farming culture. I also loved travel and had been hooked since a service trip to Nepal in my high school years

Francesca and girls from the Dream Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal

So, it also came as no surprise when I decided to complete my honours project in Laos, investigating the cost of foot-and-mouth disease control. Just weeks after returning from my trip to Laos, my supervisor asked if I’d be interested in returning to Laos full time. This time as the in-country implementation officer for two agricultural development programs. It was a no brainer.

I flew to Luang Prabang in November of 2018, determined to make a difference. I worked with farmers, government and university staff. It wasn’t until six months into my time in Laos that I realised what I was genuinely passionate about. I noticed that the female farmers sat at the back of the room during training, that they answered on behalf of their husband in surveys and that I was one of the only females in my team. I noticed female farmer exclusion and disempowerment. After that, I knew what I wanted to do. I became dedicated to the inclusion and empowerment of female farmers in a culturally appropriate manner. I designed non-verbal training tools such as board games and activity books to accommodate for the higher rates of illiteracy due to limited schooling

Female farmers in Xayabuli, Laos playing the board game designed by Francesca

 I ran female only training sessions. I became a PhD candidate, investigating the impact of socio-cultural factors on the uptake of agricultural development training programs, with a emphasis on the female farmer. My focus and passions go beyond the empowerment of female farmers in Laos. Just as food security is a global problem, so too is the exclusion of the female farming community. Female farmers in Australia still suffer the effects of gendered disempowerment themselves. With Australian women only becoming legally recognised as farmers as late as 1994.

Gendered poverty, traditional gender roles and patriarchal perceptions of female leadership all result in female disempowerment. Globally women are more likely to conclude formal education early, be victims of violence and displacement and often bear the responsibility of household management. In many counties, ‘ women are more susceptible to disease, malnourishment and the impacts of climate change.

The disempowerment of females results from long-standing and pervasive gendered marginalisation.

The experience of female farmers is a result of the socio-cultural factors of her community.

It is shaped by:

  • her age
  • her ethnicity
  • her community and
  • her beliefs.

For that reason, we need to tailor our gender empowerment strategies to our beneficiary groups.

Success comes from:

  • acknowledging the intersectionality of the female experience
  • being sensitive to the role of the female farmer in her own community.
  • learning to ask the right questions.
  • ensuring that development is custom-made to each community we apply it to.
  • being vigilant that the empowerment of marginalised groups is self-directed.
  • putting these women in the position that they can define their own empowerment.

Once we learn to do that, we will be empowering women the world over. Learning to tailor extension programs in Laos can teach us how to empower our own female farming communities here in Australia. Its an answer to a much bigger question.

Back in Australia, after a year and a half of living in Laos, I am still dedicated to the empowerment of the female farmer. I believe that we need to understand and recognise the cultural script of beneficiary communities so that we can tailor agricultural extension programs to these socio-cultural factors. More importantly, I believe in the power of the female farmer. I believe that inclusivity in agricultural extension programs won’t just improve their equality, but also their successes. I believe that gender inclusivity is the future of food security.

Young Farming Champion Dr Anika Molesworth recently interviewed Francesca for our Leadership is Language series. You can watch the interview here

Read Francesca’s blog “Things my father taught me ”  here

Footnote

Update on Francesca’s career journey in agriculture

Francesca began a PhD in 2019 investigating the inclusion of female farmers in agricultural development programs in Laos and due to COVID travel restrictions, has put that on hold to study a Master of Global Development at James Cook University.

Connect with Francesca:  LinkedIn and on Twitter 

#BtheChange #Changemakers #YouthinAg #YouthinAction #SDG5 #SDGs