Given the chance, girls can excel

Author: Meg Kauthen

Chichie grew up far from any farm in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. What drew her to be an agronomist was spending time at her grandfather’s rural homestead. Many holidays were spent running around in fields, watching her grandparents tend to their crops. As a successful renowned farmer in the village, Chichie’s grandfather had four wives, which in Zimbabwe is a sign of wealth. Through his farming everyone received a quality education, everyone had good that was cascaded down the family lineage.

Witnessing the opportunities, loving the outdoors and seeing how farming can reap many benefits for her own potential family, Chichie pursued a career in the sector. After finishing school, she was curious to know the science behind agronomy and moved to Harare to do her Bachelor’s in Agronomy and Crop Science.

Her passion drove her to understand what could be done better for her fellow country-people. She wanted to understand what systems will provide a path towards a level playing field where ordinary people can excel. Her career kick started off in Zimbabwe before she relocated to South Africa due to family commitments. Despite Chichie having the knowledge and experience in agriculture, she struggled to find opportunities to advance her career, she wanted to demonstrate her capabilities and burst age-old gender stereotypes. Adding to this, ChiChie is an immigrant, The long process of attaining permanent residency further derailed her ability to climb the corporate ladder. Not one to rest on her laurels, she pursued a Masters in Development Studies with a special emphasis on agriculture.

In 2020, she joined the Business for Development team as the Agronomy and Field Operations Manager where she would be overseeing the Mpumalanga Pilot. The Pilot is trialling a variety of winter wheat at two sites including a rehabilitated mine site at the Umsimbithi owned Wonderfontein mine and on nearby community land.

Even with this full plate, she is currently pursuing a doctorate where she furthers her passion for gender equality in agriculture by looking at technology implementation and adoption by urban women farmers. She has witnessed firsthand that through simply being a woman there are significant disadvantages. In South Africa, women constitute around 51% of the working age population (15-64 years), but only 45% of women are employed within the formal labour force[1]. Even if you have professional qualifications, your entry into the job market is at a disadvantage. She notes that as “women we have a lot on our shoulders. We do a lot to make the world a better place, yet the platform is not given to us, and we have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves.”

This is not just in the professional sector, in farming there are apparent disparities in the gender space, right across the spectrum from education, employment and farm management. Yet statistically if women are provided the opportunity and given the education, there is a multiplier effect: there is an improvement in literacy, family income, family health and food security.

So, how are we going to make the playing field a little more even? ChiChie’s doctorate is looking at the role that women are playing in adopting different agriculture technologies (AgTech). Her focus is on if women are given the opportunity to have access to the knowledge that AgTech provides, for example knowledge on how to access premium markets, they can excel. This AgTech could be information, adoption of a specific technology such as climate resilient crops, irrigation, mechanisation etc. The beauty about giving women access to this AgTech knowledge is that it usually does not stay with one household but spreads to the whole community, region and potentially the country at large.

Given it is International Day of the Girl (October 11), what does ChiChie aspire for her daughter? “I would like my daughter to know from a tender age that the world is now a global village. She is unlimited. Even if there are obstacles, she is well prepared to go beyond them and achieve her dreams. I want her to not be confined as she finds herself and finds her purpose in this life.” And what about girls around the world? “I want the same for all girls around the world. I want girls to know that they are not a victim to their circumstances, they are not bound by their background. The world is open to them, it is up to them how far they want to dream and achieve what they desire.”

Let’s hope that the girls of today, thanks ChiChie and other great people’s work, are given the chance and prove they can excel.

Happy International Day of the Girl.


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