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story.lead_photo.caption Norma Gatto took over the family farm after her husband was killed. Now one of the country's top female farmers, she spoke to a conference of women in agriculture about her journey. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Marina Lopes

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Brazil is a $300 billion global agricultural powerhouse, the world's top producer of soy, coffee, beef and oranges. But its traditionally male-dominated culture has long kept women out of the industry.

That's starting to change. A record 31% of farms in Brazil are managed by women today, triple the number in 2013, according to Brazil's Agribusiness Association.

Female farmers say they still have a tougher time than their male competitors accessing training and credit, and they suffer high rates of violence and discrimination. Now, they're banding together to try to bridge the gap.

Known as Brazil's "cattle queens," they gather once a year to discuss a range of subjects: workplace harassment, technological advances, macroeconomic policy. The meeting has grown from a few hundred women in 2016 to a sold-out event of 2,000 this month at a Sao Paulo conference center sponsored by major agricultural companies.

Surrounded by pink tractors and orchids, they attended lectures on the effect of the U.S.-China trade war on soy prices and sustainability in agriculture.

Kelly Andrade, a 38-year-old grain farmer from Minas Gerais state, says she came to be inspired by women who have succeeded in a man's world.

"It can sometimes be isolating to work in your corner of Brazil and you don't know what is happening in the rest of the country," she said. "It is great to exchange information, learn what other women are trying in their farms, what is working and not working for them."

When Andrade first started working on her father's farms, she says, banks would call him to check whether she had his permission to secure loans.

Such experiences are not uncommon. Corteva, an American agricultural company, surveyed female farmers around the world last year. Nearly 80% of Brazilian women reported having experienced discrimination, compared to 52% of their American counterparts.

"You have to learn to deal with discrimination, to be respected and have a voice," Andrade said.

Women from conservative areas of the country say the meeting was the first time they have been able to put the discrimination into words.

As the number of women in the industry grows, they also face growing rates of violence. Last year, 482 women were victims of violence in rural conflicts in Brazil, four times the number in 2017.

Lawyer Ticiane Figueiredo is the author of Agro Women, a book on female farmers in Brazil.

"When you are demanding gender equality in what has traditionally been a masculine space, men get threatened and think that we are trying to destroy them. But they need to support that effort," she says. "Since men are still the ones in a position of power, if they don't let us in, we won't break the glass ceiling."

Conference regulars say it has given them a community they can rely on year-round. They stay connected through group texts and emails, where they share legal advice, information about prices and new farming technology. When times are tough or crops are not performing as expected, they offer each other emotional support.

A Section on 10/21/2019

Print Headline: Brazil's female farmers fight gender bias

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