From farmers and food hub coordinations to home cooks and food tech developers, women are central to our food systems world wide. But other systems, like the patriarchy, undermine their contribution. At the Open Food Network, we try to counteract the impact of dominant mainstream systems with particular ways of working. Read on to learn more.

For centuries nature has been associated with femininity, but not necessarily in a positive way. In fact, both nature and the feminine have been defined as something that needs to be controlled and regulated.

Perhaps our most prevalent link with nature is through food. From planting and nurturing seeds with our hands to consuming and digesting their fruits, our link to nature via food is inextricable.

Therefore food and femininity also come hand in hand, with many of our earliest and strongest memories of food being attributable to the women in our lives.

Not only have these women shopped for, cooked for and directly fed us; they are also farmers, producers, food hub coordinators, food tech developers, researchers…the list goes on!

In fact, more than 40% of the people working in agriculture are women – with the majority of small-scale farms being run by women.

“The majority of small-scale farms are run by women.”

Almost half of food science professionals are women – an impressive statistic since women are underrepresented in science careers generally.

But you might be left with a sour taste after knowing that all this incredible work is often greatly undermined. The patriarchy, misogynistic prejudices and gender norms lead to unequal access to resources, and imbalances of power and influence.

“It goes without saying that things need to change.”

It goes without saying that things need to change and women need to be recognized for their work across our entire sociological system.

But achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is super important when we look at food systems.

This is one of the reasons why we, at the Open Food Network, work hard to counteract power imbalances that exist within our dominant societies.

We work to improve the leadership and decision-making opportunities of those who are less privileged in our society, when compared to the most privileged. And we do this through our organisational structures and processes.

Building up women’s leadership and decision-making opportunities in food systems in particular, have been noted as important for achieving gender equality and its associated benefits.

“Building up women’s leadership and decision-making opportunities in food systems is important.”

We operate using sociocratic principles – a non-hierarchical way of working which is not as complicated as it sounds!

One of the characteristics of the sociocratic approach is to organise our team into circles. Circles mean that decision-making is decentralised. There is no leader of a circle and each circle member has an equal say in every decision that’s made. We ensure this by speaking in rounds, where everyone takes a turn (if they want to) to speak.

You can learn more about our processes and structure in both the 2023 annual report and in this blog post about our sociocracy workshops at Shambala festival.


Written by Liberty Morrison

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