Nowadays we try to take gender-responsive approaches everywhere in agricultural research and interventions. Unlike chickens, pigs and sweet potatoes, where women play significant roles in production, beef cattle hold a strong masculine image. To explore gender dimensions in beef cattle production at the village level, the gender SRA team (ISDS and CIP) in collaboration with National Institute for Animal Sciences (NIAS) conducted fieldwork in a Thai ethnic minority village in Dien Bien.
Three key findings are briefly presented here. First, many parts of the everyday practices of beef cattle production are done by women. Such everyday work includes feeding, grazing, cleaning cattle sheds and covering sheds in the winter. In the study site, many of the young men (both unmarried and married) are working in Hanoi, and so the women are more and more responsible for cattle. Beef cattle production is thus no longer a masculine activity. On the other hand, unlike chickens and pigs, which women can handle alone from production to selling, men’s hands are required for grazing on the hill areas, disease control, calving, and decisions on selling and purchasing. In this respect, men’s roles are more easily noticeable. We therefore need to challenge our own bias that cattle are a male domain. In reality, they are associated with both men and women but women have more roles in the everyday practices.
Second, although women play the main everyday role, their perceived knowledge of cattle production is relatively low. Many women utilize knowledge and practices learnt from their parents based on their own experiences. In contrast, men’s perceived knowledge is high and they also perceive that they play important technical roles in cattle production. Without carefully considering women’s actual roles, their ways of learning and levels of confidence, women can be easily ignored during any training.
Third, in the study site, gender relations are relatively relaxed. Men support domestic work including cooking, and women are involved in household decision-making. However, in public, women are very shy and unused to speaking with outsiders in Vietnamese. When it comes to the training for beef cattle, women may have double barriers: their own perceptions that they have limited knowledge of cattle, and their lack of confidence and experience of being exposed to the trainings and languages used therein.
During the fieldwork, we saw middle-aged women grazing a group of cattle and buffalo. As gender roles are changing, beef cattle research needs to change to a more feminine way of thinking appropriate to women farmers. This should include having female trainers for trainees, reviewing training languages and collecting information from women in addition to men.
Written by Nozomi Kawarazuka, International Potato Center