Search Results for “WOMEN IN PERMACULTURE”

Best Practices to Support Women in Permaculture

This site is now primarily for my permaculture design consulting and coaching work. If you’d like to hear more about women’s leadership in permaculture, sign up for my email list at regenepreneurs.com

In my article “A Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture”, published in the Permaculture Activist in August 2013, each pattern identified a core solution to a problem that undermines women’s full involvement and leadership in permaculture. Since then, I’ve been collecting “best practices” that support women’s participation in the permaculture community, so that we can move from discussion to effective action. These practices were identified by many people, from many places (including in a working group at the 2014 North American Permaculture Convergence). I regret that it is impractical to list the names of all those who helped shape this document, and am grateful for the generous engagement of many contributors.  Permaculture Design Magazine published this article in its Fall 2015 “Decolonizing Permaculture” issue. In this online version of the article, there are many hyperlinks to resources.

Permaculturist are invited to discern and adopt the practices that will leverage their personal development and/or the development their organizations. Equally important, you are invited to share (in the comment box below) your commitment to implement at least one of these “best practices”–please include a benchmark or time frame by which you will evaluate outcomes. 

Please note: Some practices require a high level of facilitation skills to ensure optimal outcomes. Please “care for the people” by making sure you have the training and experience necessary to create safe spaces in which to explore and develop these practices.

As always, this is a living document–your constructive feedback, amendments, additions, and stories about success and challenges in implementing these actions are welcome.

In service to building The Beloved Community,”
Karryn

The “Best Practices” are outlined below under the pattern to which they correspond from the original article, which you can reference here.

Pattern 1: Reflect upon, clarify, and improve “mental models”

This “systems thinking” diagram below (from http://www.donellameadows.org/systems-thinking-resources/) shows that underlying any discrete event are patterns of behavior, which arise from the systemic structures that we create, which ultimately emanate from our mental models. Mental models are often unstated assumptions that are the “sources of systems.” Dialog brings these paradigms to surface–allowing us to reflect on them them. Evolving our mental models is key leverage point that can rapidly transform systems.

iceberg-model

  • Counter gender schemas and other forms of “unconscious bias” by learning to be allies who co-create equitable environments (see Pattern 8).
    • Learning about the systems of privilege and oppression is a life-long process. Host a study group on these topics in your local permaculture community.
  • Use and grow this resource list: https://permiesforequity.wordpress.com/self-education-resources/  
    • Daylight what goes unseen. Host a fishbowl exercise in your local/regional permaculture community. In this exercise, women sit in the center of a circle and speak to topics like, “What is the landscape for women in permaculture in our area?” Men silently witness this courageous sharing. These processes should be guided by experienced facilitators, and the men present should have time to debrief afterward with a facilitator.
  • Be a “pattern literate” systems thinker: understand feedback loops.
    • Recognize vicious cycles: for example, “calling out” an “-ism” is met with defensiveness, unproductive reactions, and flaring tempers on both sides–causing relationships to erode.
    • Listen and reflect to defuse situations before they spiral out of control; or take a break if things get heated, etc.
    • Cultivate virtuous cycles:  daylight underlying assumptions by “calling in” problematic behavior, practicing deep listening, and asking questions that help all parties better understand assumptions. Engage excellent facilitation and communication skills, and strengthen relationships.
    • Value and hone social permaculture skills (such as effective and compassionate communication, facilitation, and conflict resolution, etc.) as crucial parts of your “permaculture toolbelt”.
  • Co-create “call-in” culture:
    • “There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit.”    Asam Ahmad  
    • “…when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed.“  Ngoc Loan Tran
Kathy

Kathy Puffer putting final touches on a Solar CITIES cement PUXIN biodigester that will process cow manure into a rich compost tea and biogas for heating a barn.

  • Jiggle mental models. Micro-affirmations, when part of an organization’s culture, counter “–isms”, and help people succeed. Male and female teachers can counter gender schemas with micro-affirmations for women. These small, appreciative acts not only block inequities, but can also reverse their negative effects, and model behavior that when replicated, creates a positive snowball effect. Some examples from the Gender Schema Tutorials:
    • A woman who adopts “a friendly but assertive leadership role” receives “more negative facial expressions than their male colleagues.” This can affect how other people in the room view her, and erode the woman’s morale.
      • To help counteract such unconscious reactions from participants, make statements that show confidence in your female colleague’s competence.
      • Are your body language and facial expressions engaged and affirming?
  • Understand the role of benevolent sexism in gender inequality.
  • Understand and dismantle “horizontal hostility”–a term coined by Florynce Kennedy in the 1970s.HH
  • Replace “guys” as the go-to word when you mean “people”.
    An option: What are you “gaias” doing?
  • Value the work of people quietly organizing behind the scenes or implementing permaculture on the land. Develop “abundance models” to ensure that the foundational “weaving work” of organizers, care providers, and homesteading doesn’t remain invisible or unpaid.
  • When you use a women’s ideas, increase her visibility by attributing the idea to the her. Even more so if she is a woman of color: “statements said by a Black woman in a group discussion are least likely to be correctly attributed”.
  • Equally share in the “caring work” during a course—group facilitation, vibes watching, taking care of group process and conflict management. Due to gender schemas, when women teachers do this, they can be subconsciously viewed by students as less competent in technical aspects of their professional work than their male colleagues.
  • Women, let’s support each other to overcome our self-limiting beliefs:
    • Don’t assume that you aren’t good at something if you don’t catch on right away—read  The Trouble with Bright Girls.
    • Stand in the value of your work, solicit gigs, don’t undercharge, and hone your negotiation skills—read “Women Don’t Ask” and its companion book,  “Ask for It.”
WomensTeachers

Lisa DePiano and Pandora Thomas facilitated the first Permaculture Teacher Training for Women at Omega Institute in August of 2015. Shown here with their teaching team: Tarah Hines, Monica Ibacache, Lisa Depiano, Pandora Thomas, and Karryn Olson-Ramanujan Photo credit: Angie Gonzalez

Pattern 2: Understand and advocate for the 30% Solution

  • Understand why having 30% women in all levels of leadership promotes systematic momentum towards parity for women, and provides better outcomes for organizations.If women occupy fewer than 30% of leadership positions in your organization, educate others about the benefits of the 30% Solution.
  • Replace the question, “Who do I know?” with “Whom don’t I know?” Invite capable women onto your teams. (Women, enter your info at http://www.wherearethewomeninpermaculture.com)
  • Avoid the gender pay gap. Pay all employees according to skill, experience level, and results delivered. And, if it bothers you when a woman negotiates on her behalf, ask yourself: Would I react the same way if a man did the same? If yes, there’s probably a gender schema at play.
  • Write a profile of a woman in permaculture so that more women are more visible, and they can feel that their pioneering work is valued. Rosemary Morrow is a woman who was a pioneer in permaculture. She is profiled here.

Pattern 3: Value diversity

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Using our expertise to provide much-needed services in unfilled niches: Antonia Perez, Cynthia Espinosa Marrero and Lala Montoya-Williams collaborate to deliver permaculture-based green job training to Spanish-speaking immigrants

  • Heterogeneous groups are more apt to make ethical decisions; studies also reveal that “diverse groups almost always outperform homogenous groups, even if the people in a homogenous group are more capable.” How will this information inform your board meetings, hiring, or programming?
  • A great resource for understanding implicit bias (unconscious attitudes that affect our understanding, decisions, and behavior in ways we might not want) regarding race and ethnicity is a webinar at http://www.withinourlifetime.net/. Bias and other phenomena in our unconscious minds give rise to social patterns of inequity. We need to understand bias in order to design for equity. It is suggested that folks gather a study group to watch this together and facilitate a discussion afterward.
  • To avoid “tokenism”, scholarships for people of color should be robust enough to invite 2-3 (minimum) people of color to the course. This ensures that the people of color can find support in each other and enriches the social permaculture aspects of any training.
  • Understanding the dynamics of privilege/oppression helps us discern systemic factors that create barriers to full participation in permaculture by historically marginalized groups; with cultural competency, we can build relationships and follow the leadership of in underprivileged communities to actively co-create solutions.
  • We must be prepared to facilitate the dynamics that may come up when we become a diverse group. Include in your aformentioned permaculture “toolbelt:” facilitation, cultural competency, anti-bias trainings, anti-oppression frameworks, conflict management, non-violent communication, etc. Which skills can you develop further? How can we embed these skills in teacher trainings?

Pattern 4: Intersectional identities matter

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Angie Rainbow from Permaculture Yogi shares a fun afternoon teaching young girls about permaculture principles through hands-on, practical and fun applications.

  • Women in permaculture come from varied economic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, education levels, ethnicities, abilities, etc. As a result, different types of discrimination interact to form very different experiences and perspectives that are critical to our understanding of the dynamics of oppression. Host conversations that explore intersectionality (a term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s) in permaculture.
  • Understand that people who have been historically marginalized “swim” in the dominant culture and may prefer, at times, to relate with others who share their common experience–so they can focus on their own solutions instead of educating folks from the dominant group about the validity of their experience. This is holarchy at work, because the self-determination and liberation of any constituency better supports the entire system toward collective liberation.
  • The “recruitment model” where one enlists some Women/African Americans/First Nations People/Rural Poor/LGBTQ folks onto a board or project is a way in which privileged folks often reproduce dynamics of oppression. Instead, respect the leadership of people who can best develop solutions that are most relevant for their communities. Healthy systems are built upon relationships, so follow their leadership, practice humility as a support person, earn trust. Then, inquire where you can be of service with your permaculture skills.
  • Connect the dots between permaculture and social justice locally (food dignity, food systems, systemic inequalities, violence, etc) and globally (sustainable development, human rights, climate justice, etc).
  • How do we connect with international women who don’t have internet or the resources to travel outside their communities? If you have the benefit of travelling abroad, inquire if folks there would like to connect with the wider permaculture network, and facilitate those connections.
  • Don’t assume everyone in permaculture is okay with hugs, substance use, bare feet, informality, mixed gender groups, or unwashed bodies.
  • If you are a guest in another community, be culturally competent and find a good balance between your own expression and the cultural norms.
  • People from historically marginalized populations may experience stress when in circles occupied mostly by people of a dominant group–especially if these groups are unaware about dynamics of oppression. For example, one study shows links between racial discrimination, stress and health.  By the same token, another study finds, “Women who work in male-dominated occupations face challenges that differ from those who work in more gender-balanced and female-dominated occupations. These challenges affect their retention and career success”.  A key point of intervention is thoughtful design of events, organizations and processes, which can greatly reduce the impact of such stressors. See Pattern 8 for more information.

    IMG_2486

    Shodo Spring clears space for the kitchen garden at Mountains and Waters Farm.

  • Improve Accessibility
    • Replace the term “disabled” with “differently abled.”
    • Note that some folks are differently abled in ways that are visible, others in ways that are not visible; and some folks don’t want to identify themselves as needing accommodation.
    • To address this, appoint an Accessibility Point Person and invite all participants to share their accessibility needs before your event, so that accommodations can be made.
    • At event openings, create space for the Accessibility Point Person to brief the group on accommodations, and to invite any new requests. This builds a culture of inclusion from the outset.
    • Universal design that accommodates “differently abled” folks increases the quality of experience for everyone. For example:
      • Are venues wheelchair accessible?
      • Reserve a few seats up front for people who need to be closer to participate fully.
      • Strive to provide and fund support for visually- or hearing-challenged participants.
      • Consider a “scent-free” policy so that chemically sensitive folks will be comfortable at your event, and distribute a “scent-free primer” with registration materials.
  • Reconsider the gender binary. During introductions, people can share their names and preferred pronouns. This crafts welcoming language. Also, the Northeastern Women’s Gatherings invite folks who are “women-identified, or female assigned at birth.” However, the wording is unwieldy to use repeatedly throughout this lengthy “Best Practices” text! Can you suggest a solution?
  • LGBTQ folks invite the permaculture movement to question “heteronormative” assumptions.
  • Value elders’ wisdom!  Also, welcome those new to permaculture to the center of our circles—we can learn a lot from them, too!
  • For more information on becoming better allies, see Pattern 8.
RainBarrel

Permaculture FEAST students Sharón Friedner and Kristen Geissler, repurpose a food storage container to make a rain barrel at a permablitz. Photo credit: Roxanne Finn Matuszek

Pattern 5: Mentoring is key to building women’s leadership

  • Make sure you have women on your teaching team, and invite them to teach as much science/technical/math-heavy content as men.
  • When students are learning “technical” skills, using tools, or building things: make sure women get equal time, or have optional small-group learning opportunities for beginners with mentors who won’t “do for them”, but instead encourage them to struggle towards mastery.
  • Discern, design, and replicate “abundance models.” Lots of women report doing great work in permaculture, but not earning enough to support their Beloveds, nor finding time for self-care. This happens often because permaculture entrepreneurs need business models, but often don’t resonate with “business as usual.”
  • Many professional women in permaculture mentor other women. Mentors and mentees are encouraged to develop mutually beneficial relationships that compensate mentors, and ensure high-quality experiences for mentees.
  • Showcase women professionals in permaculture who create thriving livelihoods based on the permaculture ethics. Write a profile of a woman who made a difference on your permaculture path.
  • Consider trainings for women by women. Do they provide higher quality learning outcomes for the women served? Evaluate! Improve!

Pattern 6: Value archetypically “feminine” ways of leading

DSCN5924

Claire Core teaching children how to plant effectively at the Bee Inspired Garden.

  • Valorize[1] “archetypically feminine” qualities, such as collaboration, empathy, transparency, etc. They are not only the foundation of effective social permaculture, but are leadership skills for the 21st Century. These qualities are inherent in all humans, and sexism hurts men by demeaning their “archetypically feminine” qualities.
  • Recognize, reward and develop these qualities in yourself and others.
  • Enable people to get relief from nurturing and caring work.
  • Honor risk-taking around vulnerability and authenticity so that more folks can show up that way.
  • Note that “archetypically feminine” characteristics are not limited to receptivity and nurturing, but include fierceness, etc.
  • Develop and share “abundance models” for fields often filled by women: childcare, nutrition, medicinals, kitchen gardens, flowers, solar kitchens, aesthetics, etc.
  • For example, let’s share the burden of developing financially-sustainable models for permaculture education and organizing, so mothers and families can attend. Children can be cared for by established local, licensed, nature-based caregivers who are paid a generous living wage, yet the costs for childcare remain low for families because
    • childcare is provided cooperatively with parents and non-parents in situations that are safe for the children (who are always with at least two adults, or professional care providers), or
    • the larger group shares the cost of childcare, so the responsibility to incorporate them in educational models is shared.

[1] to give or ascribe value or validity to.

Pattern 7: Nurture women’s leadership through women’s gatherings

Tarah

Kathy Puffer (shown above) brought her biogas demonstration kit to a NE Women’s Gathering. Here, Tarah Hines is lighting a biogas stove and delighted to see a blue flame generated from yesterday’s kitchen garbage.

  • Create and attend regular local, regional, and national gatherings for women to discuss challenges, solutions, and to network and build relationships.
  • Cross-pollinate between women’s gatherings.
  • Use these gatherings to co-determine our futures regionally, nationally, & internationally by creating policy for voluntary adoption by permaculture organizations.
  • Consider audio/visual/internet options that allow virtual participation, to increase accessibility and decrease carbon footprints. This must be balanced with the need to create safe containers for deep sharing.
  • Organizing gatherings is a lot of work! Develop “abundance models” that reward these vital efforts.
  • Avoid overworking: host local slumber parties to bond over fun and mutual interests.

Pattern 8: Be an Ally

The pamphlet “Privilege and Allyship” from the Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin College defines an ally as “a member of the ‘dominant’ or ‘majority’ group who questions or rejects the dominant ideology and works against oppression through support of, and as an advocate, with or for, the oppressed population.”

  • Sexual harassment is illegal. If you don’t have policies in place to prevent harassment, this can expose your organization to serious risk. In this “problem” is the solution: instead, designing welcoming and inclusive environments for all.
  • When training teachers, have a “code of conduct” that includes teachers refraining from romantic or sexual involvement with a student during a course.
  • Men are requested to take an active role in development, communication and enforcement of anti-harassment policies.
  • Don’t communicate your harassment policies in ways that make people feel scrutinized or “bad.” Instead, share best practices that create safe space for everyone, clarify expectations, and build community: Starhawk suggests that folks set a tone early in classes or gatherings by:
    • Acknowledging that it is normal for humans to be attracted to each other, and that sexuality is a normal part of life; and that healthy boundaries build relationship and safety…
    • Brainstorm agreements with the group like “no means no, and yes means yes,” or “ask permission before a hug, etc.”
    • Invite people who can offer support around these topics to self-identify.
  • Nurture organizational culture and language that honors the humanity of men. Dispel the stereotype that talking about sexism equals male bashing.
  • At the same time, women need spaces (perhaps women-only?) to speak their experiences with sexism–including expressing anger and frustration–and to be fully seen. Create containers for this: participation would be voluntary and characterized by deep listening and witnessing; not analyzing, fixing or giving advice.
  • If you witness offensive talk or inappropriate actions, practice being an active bystander to signal that norms of respect and inclusivity are to be taken seriously.
  • Consider taking a “100% responsiveness” approach (see sidebar).
  • Celebrate allies.
  • Read “Here’s Why ‘Good Looking’ is Wrong and Damaging” so you understand that calling attention to a woman’s appearance, even positively, undermines her professional credibility.
  • If women are requested to pee outdoors, provide dignified “pee spots” or even “pee palaces” that have a bed of carbon-rich material to capture the urine. This makes it possible for women to urinate outdoors without hunting for a long time for a private spot. Many women also won’t pee outdoors during their moon cycles unless they feel their privacy is ensured. This is also a great universal design option because some men also prefer to pee more discretely. Consider accessibility issues, too.
  • Normalize conversations around women’s cycles—during long courses at PDCs where many women come together in close connection with nature, their cycles may shift… make available in toilet areas “moon time” supplies, and discuss openly your preferred methods for disposal on site.
  • Choose event venues thoughtfully. Will women feel secure in your secluded campground? Will people of color feel vulnerable driving to your rural site?
  • Since permaculture gatherings provide lots of “edge”, it is an opportunity for folks from privileged groups to learn about oppression. The People of Color Caucus and their Allies at the 2014 North American Permaculture Convergence (NAPC) issued these (and other) resolutions and requests:
    • Allies who have done significant work regarding racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, gender identity, etc. can provide key support by “bridging” social interactions, and acting as a “buffer” so that people of color / women / etc. won’t be expected to always be available to educate about “their people”.
    • Folks willing to engage in dialog about a particular “ism” can self-identify by wearing an armband or button. This allows the larger group to direct questions to them when “on duty”, but there is also the option to go “off-duty” (by taking off the armband) and get a breather for self-care.

Cultivate 100% responsiveness – microaggressions matter
A contribution by Uma Lo

Develop the awareness and skills to speak up whenever you hear microaggressions (brief, casual and common speech in-built assumptions that insult, demean, negate and/or further ‘otherize’ marginalized groups of people). This is a direct way to create healthier inclusive spaces and to disrupt prevailing privilege/oppression dynamics. Every microaggression that goes unaddressed reinforces a system that shames women, people of color, trans and gender-non-conforming folk(…) for wanting to be whole, to be seen, understood, and respected; and the invisibility of the harm done (a broken feedback loop) perpetuates the inequality. Facilitators and organizers can create restorative spaces that normalize and encourage interventions and that emphasize (1) care and dignity for the people that are impacted and (2) learning (rather than shaming) for people who do harm, usually without any awareness or intention. “I want to give attention to what was said, ‘x’. Hearing that can be really hurtful and damaging to ‘y’ [group of people]’ because there is an assumption that ‘z’ — and that assumption is false.” Doing this alone, does not at all directly tend to any actual hurt that someone in the room may have experienced, but acknowledging at least affirms that it matters and increases the possibility of restorative witnessing/listening, facing and learning about privilege/oppression, productive dialogue and actual conscious shifts in behavior. In casual conversation: “There’s something you said earlier, ‘x’, that I think could be really painful to some people (and I don’t imagine you would mean to hurt anyone) – are you open to hearing what it was and what was painful about it?” – Uma Lo. Uma is a permaculture organizer, facilitator and dialogue, collaboration and conflict resolution coach living in NYC. workwithumalo@gmail.com

Karryn Olson-Ramanujan is a lead teacher and founding board member of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute. She works as a permaculture designer and teacher through her business, SEED Sustainability Consulting. More recently, she started online trainings and coaching for women dedicated to co-creating our regenerative future through socially-conscious ecopreneurship. Learn more about this at regenepreneurs.com 

A “Pattern Language” for Women in Permaculture

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This site is now primarily for my permaculture design consulting and coaching work. If you’d like to hear more about women’s leadership in permaculture, sign up for my email list at regenepreneurs.com

This article by Karryn Olson-Ramanujan was published in the “Permaculture Activist” magazine in August of 2013. This version is edited slightly, with longer captions, more pictures, and hyperlinks.

Click here for a pdf version of the article.

Also, you can listen to an interview about this topic on the Permaculture Podcast–look for the April 23, 2014 episode.

Also, after writing this article, I started compiling Best Practices to Support Women in Permaculture. Check them out–and you are invited to contribute to these living documents!

 

Though women receive the majority of all college degrees in the U.S., and are well represented in the work force, they are very under-represented in positions of high-level leadership. Most of the women I’ve encountered in permaculture note analogous patterns: often, women constitute 50% or more of the participants in PDCs, yet occupy disproportionately few of the positions of leadership and prominence in lucrative roles, such as designers, teachers, authors, speakers, or “permaculture superstars.”

To address this situation, this article drafts “A Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture.” Each pattern can be applied in many ways and names a core solution to a problem that undermines women’s full participation and leadership. Just as words connect to form a language, one can connect these patterns to form a language that describes good social design practices.

This approach is modeled after the book, A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander et al, in which the authors write, ”Each pattern may be looked upon as a hypothesis… and are therefore all tentative, all free to evolve under the impact of new experience and observation.” Using the same analogy, I invite your input to help craft this new language.

Pattern 1: Shift “mental models”

What are mental models? They are deeply ingrained generalizations that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. The problem with mental models arises when we are unaware of them–so they remain unexamined, yet govern our behavior.

Dr. Virginia Valian, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Hunter College and Co-Director of its “Gender Equity Project,” studies “gender schemas”–our unaware assumptions about what it means to be male or female in our society, and the “accumulation of advantage.“

Valian shows that women leaders are measured against “masculine” characteristics for leadership, competence, and assertiveness. As a result, both men and women consistently overrate men’s performance, while women are underrated. “Whatever emphasizes a man’s gender gives him a small advantage, a plus mark. Whatever accentuates a woman’s gender results in a small loss for her, a minus mark,” states Valian in her book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.

Accumulation of small disadvantages for women stalls or slows their path to leadership and undermines their earning potential. To illustrate this, Valian cites research in which a computer simulation begins with equal numbers of new male and female employees. A tiny bias–only 1% of the variability in promotion–in favor of men is programmed into many iterations of simulated opportunities for promotion. In the end, men occupied 65% of the highest positions in the organization.

We can see this dynamic in the US. According to the White House Project, in their “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” report, women receive the majority of all college degrees, make up almost half of the workforce, and are well represented in entry- and mid-level positions in most sectors of the economy. However, women occupy on average only 18% of top leadership positions (and numbers are lower among women of color). Further, the wage gap for women means that they make 78.7 cents for every dollar earned by men, and that gap widens with age.

This makes little sense, especially when studies show that “…of the various qualities of leadership, women were rated far, far ahead of men on being honest, intelligent, compassionate, outgoing, and creative, and were considered just as hardworking, and ambitious as men. Men were perceived as excelling only in being decisive,” according to studies cited by Linda Tarr-Whelan in Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World. Indeed, although most Americans agree that women are more likely to have the qualities needed to make a good leader, they often still opt for a man in charge.

In permaculture circles, the women I interviewed expressed universal frustration over the low number of women in traditional roles of leadership. At the same time, they also expressed dismay that other roles in which women are at or above parity (such as organizers, homesteaders, farmers, or other related fields) are often not valued as leadership.

Stella Strega with one of her lambs, a traditional Canary Island breed. These relatively rare Herrenian sheep provide wool, milk, excellent meat, and invaluable environmental services - they are rotated on the ecovillage farm she is designing as an integrated forest gardens system with multiple animal species designed to maximize food yields & carbon capture in soils.

Stella Strega with one of her lambs, a traditional Canary Island breed. These relatively rare Herrenian sheep provide wool, milk, excellent meat, and invaluable environmental services – they are rotated on the ecovillage farm she is designing as an integrated forest gardens system with multiple animal species designed to maximize food yields & carbon capture in soils.

“It seems very ironic to me that it is often the organizer types who get over-looked as designers, when they are, in fact, very skilled at the much harder ‘invisible structures’ design that is so essential in making anything happen,” said Stella Strega, permaculture teacher and designer in the Canary Islands. Organizer designers, for example, focus on people-care aspects: bringing people together; organizing events, course schedules, book publication, and even entire permaculture networks. “They do the very complex ‘weaving’ work without which we would never hear about permaculture or any of the illustrious teachers in the first place. When permaculture projects fail, it is because they didn’t have enough of those skilled kinds of designers, not because the trees or plants failed to grow.”

So, how do we shift mental models?

First, one can commit to educating oneself about them and dialoging about their impact on us and on our organizations.

Second, we can counter gender schemas and other forms of “unconscious bias” by learning to be an allies who co-create equitable environments (see Pattern 8).

Third, we can build habits of giving “micro-affirmations”?which not only block inequities, but also can reverse their negative effects. This modeling of small, appreciative acts also invites others to replicate them, thus creating a snowball effect. Finally, we can value the work of people quietly doing the work of organizing and implementing permaculture on the land. For example, although value isn’t measured only by money, several women organizers are developing business models for events to ensure that their work doesn’t have to remain unpaid.

Pattern 2: Understand and advocate for the “30% Solution” as an vital step toward parity

Valian’s studies also relate to numbers of women in the workplace: “…being a minority increases a woman’s likelihood of being judged in terms of her difference from the male majority, rather than in terms of her actual performance. Her minority status highlights her gender and, accordingly, makes her seem less appropriate for the job, which seems more masculine because of the large number of men filling it.”

However, the impact of gender schemas is reduced or eliminated when women are more numerous in a group: “…researchers found that women’s performance ratings were more negative than men’s when women were only 1-10% of a work group; somewhat less negative when women constituted 11-20%, and shifted to more positive when women were 50% or more of a group.”

Along these lines, Linda Tarr-Whelan shows when 30% of the people at power tables are women, organizations reach a tipping point. Women can then change agendas, inform goals, allocate resources, and impact the style in which goals are achieved. Cultural stereotypes are altered so that women are no longer seen as women, but as professionals.

Serving as a classic example of win-win solutions, a critical mass of women at top levels not only benefits individual women, but also leads to better government and better business outcomes. The “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” report states, “A growing body of research demonstrates that women’s ‘risk-smart’ leadership is perfectly suited to what our nation needs to get on the right track.” Further, “…women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision making, have a broader conception of public policy, and are also more likely to work through differences to form coalitions, complete objectives, and bring disenfranchised communities to the table.”

Tarr-Whelan challenges all of us to look at our organizations, and if we notice that women are in less than 30% of leadership positions, to start a conversation about the benefits of women’s leadership. We can ask, “What is the landscape for women in permaculture in our circles?” If not at parity, we can set policy to have 30% of our boards, teaching teams, speakers lists, etc., occupied by qualified women. They are out there, and we can find them by replacing the question, “Who do I know?” with “Who don’t I know?”

Pattern 3: Value diversity

This permaculture design principle is true for both natural and human systems. Diverse groups perform better than homogenous groups when it comes to decision making, not only because of input from the minority group, but also, in the case of ethnic diversity, because white participants improved the quality of their participation, according to a 2008 Tufts University study. Another 2012 study shows that heterogeneous groups are more apt to make ethical decisions. Other studies reveal that “diverse groups almost always outperform homogenous groups, even if the people in a homogenous group are more capable.” This reveals a pattern for optimizing human organizations.

Starhawk, an expert on Goddess religion, earth based spirituality and activism, offers Earth Activist Trainings (EAT). EAT has developed a two-pronged approach to capacity building: 1) by building long-standing relationships to support communities with unmet needs; and 2) by reinvesting surplus funds into diversity scholarships, which in this case, were offered for people of color. “It was tremendously successful–we went from 1-2% of our course being people of color to perhaps 40%.” Starhawk emphasized that inviting more than one person of color to the course ensures that they have support and avoids tokenism, shifts the whole dynamic of the course and is very enriching. It is also important for teachers to have training in the factors that create barriers to full participation and to be prepared to facilitate the stuff that may come up when we become a diverse group. “For permaculture to succeed in changing the world, it has got to move beyond the usual suspects and embrace the wide diversity of the world we live in.”

Pattern 4: Intersecting Identities

This article cannot speak for all women in permaculture–the women I was able to contact for interviews through electronic social media on rather short notice were mostly of European descent, from industrialized nations. All of the women I interviewed voiced concerns about permaculture presently being accessible to mostly white, middle class folks in their regions. Moreover, we know that women are active in permaculture elsewhere in the world and we want to create better networks with those women, as the “women in permaculture” movement must include multiple perspectives informed by diversity of age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, geographic area, class, physical ability, educational level, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Indeed, the women of color in the feminist movement of the 60s added a new dimension by pointing out that the experiences of women are not homogenous, but that the intersection of identities and discriminations forms experiences and perspectives that are critical to humanity’s understanding of oppression.

Similarly, Pandora Thomas, a rising permaculture leader in the San Francisco Bay Area says, “There hasn’t been enough work done around permaculture principles translating them for the people care ethic, so now there’s this misconception that permaculture is about farming and gardening, which it isn’t–it’s mostly about relationships. It’s about looking at systemic problems and finding relationship-based whole system solutions?and one of most vital systemic issues, along with the status of women, is cultural and racial inequity.” Thomas believes the phrase “women in permaculture” fails to acknowledge that there are many types of women who are treated in such divergent ways, with black women often finding themselves invisible in conversations about women in permaculture. At the same time, many women from diverse backgrounds are engaged in and taking leadership around permaculture design, she said.

Pandora Thomas showing her great niece the “three sisters:” corn, squash and beans in her hometown in Pennsylvania

Pandora Thomas showing her great niece the “three sisters:” corn, squash and beans in her hometown in Pennsylvania

“I can name ten African or African American women in the U.S. who have been trained or are using a permaculture design approach, but often times they are linking it to broader social movements as well and naming these solutions so they are relevant for our community. For example, in Chicago, Naomi Davis has started the Green Village Model that is based on ethics and solutions that are similar to permaculture. We can’t just talk about being a woman in permaculture, for African American females, because our entire communities are suffering…it is about survival! A lot of us are trying to figure out how to save our sons as well as our daughters.” Thomas said. She also made a point to acknowledge that many white women in the U.S. and abroad are making these connections between permaculture and social justice.

Alex Kruger sharing soil testing skills with women on the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa

Alex Kruger sharing soil testing skills with women on the Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa

In South Africa, ecovillager and permaculture teacher/designer Alex Kruger shared that after Bill Mollison’s lecture tour in 1991, the permaculture movement started very slowly and was “terribly middle class and quite pale” for some time because the entrenched economic disparities from the apartheid era still form barriers to participation. Indeed, two of the biggest permaculture NGOs (which were founded by women) have found traction by addressing issues highly relevant for local citizens: Jeunesse Park started “Food and Trees for Africa” to address sustainable development through food security and food systems, educational efforts, and climate change action. Leigh Brown’s organization, SEED, incorporates permaculture into school curricula and building outdoor classrooms. SEED is also developing urban models of permaculture in lower income areas of Cape Town.

Pattern 5: Mentoring is key to building women’s leadership

Abrah Dresdale (l) worked with permaculture designer and teacher Lisa DePiano (r) on the Abrah Dresdale (l) worked with permaculture designer and teacher Lisa DePiano (r) on the Feed Northampton food security report. Later, DePiano mentored Dresdale in becoming a permaculture teacher. Dresdale now works as a permaculture professional coordinating the Farm and Food System Associates Degree Program at Greenfield Community College

Abrah Dresdale (l) worked with permaculture designer and teacher Lisa DePiano (r) on the Abrah Dresdale (l) worked with permaculture designer and teacher Lisa DePiano (r) on the Feed Northampton food security report. Later, DePiano mentored Dresdale in becoming a permaculture teacher. Dresdale now works as a permaculture professional coordinating the Farm and Food System Associates Degree Program at Greenfield Community College

Some of the women interviewed talked about finding great satisfaction in learning and teaching the “hard skills” for permaculture. Some mentioned that it would have been easier if they had female mentors to facilitate their mastery of these skills. Many said that mentoring other women is a part of their present work. They universally agreed that women mentoring women is vital for building professional leadership skills.

Lisa DePiano, a permaculture designer and teacher in the Northeastern US, feels called to mentor other women. “I’m offering teaching apprenticeships, and design/install apprenticeships. There’s a demand for it, and it strengthens our networks,” she said.

Lesley Byrne, a permaculturist working internationally with children and rural subsistence farmers through educational gardens, sums it up this way: “Part of leadership is setting an example for others to follow in your path, mentoring, forward thinking, being a pioneer and taking risks. Younger women come to me for advice on how to navigate through the male dominance of permaculture and younger people come to me for guidance whether it be in the field of international aid or striking out on their own.”

Pattern 6: Value archetypically “feminine” ways of leading

The women I interviewed agreed that although some qualities are considered archetypically “masculine,” and others archetypically “feminine,” they are qualities available to all humans and not necessarily tied to gender. We need to value the archetypically “feminine” qualities.

“I’ve been sitting with the question of how deeply ingrained cultural dynamics of patriarchy are, and the reality that they are so deep that they become invisible. We fall into a trap of defining leadership in a very masculine way that reflects how we define what is of value, so starting from the first premise, we are flawed–because there are actually many ways leadership can look.” –Lindsay Dailey

“There often is a bias that the guys who work with big machines are the ones who really know, and the technical skills are most important. They are extremely valuable, but the social skills are often the real constraining factor in moving from the theory to the practice,” said Starhawk. “People often go off and set up a wonderful intentional community and the next thing you know they are all fighting and break up. Also, women are often constrained from traveling because of families, so they may not be in position to do big sexy international projects. A lot of women are working locally and are committed to working on their own home fronts and we need to learn to value those things more as well.”

Lesley Byrne in Afghanistan. While living alone in a tent for four months, the men she worked with were very respectful and even adopted puppies for her—unheard of in a Muslim country. Upon departure, all were in tears. “As a woman I had an advantage over Western men because I was not viewed as a threat, which allowed them to let their guards down and for me to make much more headway training the farmers in permaculture.”

Lesley Byrne in Afghanistan. While living alone in a tent for four months, the men she worked with were very respectful.  They even adopted puppies for her—unheard of in a Muslim country. Upon departure, all were in tears. “As a woman I had an advantage over Western men because I was not viewed as a threat, which allowed them to let their guards down and for me to make much more headway training the farmers in permaculture.”

“Although we talk about people care, I find that most men shy away from nutrition, medicinals, kitchen gardens, flowers, etc., as it is viewed as women’s work, ‘less than’ or too ‘soft’ in some ways.” Lesley Byrne said. She emphasized the need for these elements in parts of the world where poverty is greatest. “We talk about the power of patterns and observation, but we really don’t address cultures and families as we should. This is where women have their own strengths, and I think it’s about time we use that to our advantage and create something new within permaculture.”

Indeed, women are experimenting with financially sustainable models for permaculture education and organizing that enable mothers and families to attend. Jeanine Carlson, co-founder of the Women’s Permaculture Leadership Initiative, outlined a model where there is morning childcare, shared lunch, then hands-on learning that includes the children in the community. “Children aren’t just tolerated but welcomed, honored, and educated,” she said.

Children planting pumpkins. Photo by Jeanine Carlson

Children planting pumpkins.
Photo by Jeanine Carlson

“We include the cost of childcare in tuition as we feel it is everyone’s responsibility to foster the future generations and accept how to incorporate them in community education models.” This model ensures the children are cared for by established local, licensed caregivers who are paid a generous living wage, yet the costs for childcare remain low for families. “We want to make permaculture and permaculture-related education increasingly accessible for women with young families as a potential source of livelihood, or as we call it, thrivelihood, so we model the potential for doing so. Who, save the mothers raising children, are more invested in our future generations’ potential to thrive?” Carlson says.

 

Pattern 7: Nurture women’s leadership through women’s gatherings

“The women’s permaculture gatherings have been really wonderful, and I recommend to women to find ways to get together and connect. Because it gives us a chance to get to know each other, find ways to support each other, it gives the women teachers the chance to get some prominence, it’s one of the important ways we can build a culture of support for women.” –Starhawk.

Associate Director of the Wildlands Program at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, Lindsay Dailey is co-founder of Villa Sobrante: a permaculture and natural building community and demonstration site. She relates her positive experience from women’s gatherings, “As I’ve come to embrace my own feminine qualities of receptivity and intuition, I am trusting myself more and more and enjoy surrounding myself with women who are walking their path and tuning into their power.”

“Few, if any forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision,” says Peter Senge, a guru for learning organizations. At the upcoming Northeastern Women’s Permaculture Gathering in the fall of 2013, articulating goals for women in permaculture will be one suggested theme. As women organize in regions, their voices can then shape the movement at large.

Pattern 8: Be an Ally

Jenny Pell learning from a Mayan elder

Jenny Pell learning from a Mayan elder

Jenny Pell, a former tree planter, helicopter pilot, carpenter, and yurt builder who now manages her growing full-service design/build company, Permaculture Now!, says, “I’m working with some awesome men right now who are being inspired by my leadership. I believe there’s a great appreciation for strong female guidance at this juncture, and the fact that powerful guys are turning to women for leadership really speaks volumes.”

Jenny, like all the women I encounter in permaculture circles, echoes my firm conviction: We are members in the guild of humanity with men whom we also want to flourish. Almost all interviewees, who voiced strong frustrations, also shared their appreciation for the men in their lives that had acted as allies by mentoring them or supporting their leadership.

Men are invited into the circle to learn about the dynamics of oppression, how sexism hurts women and men, and how to move from privilege by building their skills as allies. The pamphlet “Privilege and Allyship” from the Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin College defines an ally as “a member of the ‘dominant’ or ‘majority’ group who questions or rejects the dominant ideology and works against oppression through support of, and as an advocate, with or for, the oppressed population.”

Men can be allies to women in many ways, and are especially invited to take an active role in anti-harassment policies, because men do most sexual harassment of women. “Sexual harassment is handled badly in two ways: when we ignore it, and when we communicate policies in a way that is too heavy handed,” according to Starhawk. EAT has a policy against teachers getting romantically involved with students during courses. They also set a tone early in the course by discussing healthy boundaries with students, like “no means no, and yes means yes.” They also invite people who can function as allies to self-identify. This creates safe space, clarifies expectations, and builds community. Indeed, one can become an ally to any historically marginalized group. By doing so, we manifest the Fair Share ethic by “sharing” our privilege!

 

Let me conclude this article by expressing my gratitude for the many women and men who provided input, inspiration, and support. Some day, I’ll share the longer version, which outlines a systems thinking approach that undergirds my analysis of problems and informs the solutions that I presented here. It also includes more compelling anecdotes from interviewees.

I look forward to ongoing conversations and co-evolution of the ideas presented here. It is my hope that this process of women drafting a self-determined pattern language for our engagement in permaculture will serve as a template for other historically marginalized groups to do the same–so that together with our allies, we can design a language for a truly inclusive, empowering, and regenerative movement.

The first annual Women in Permaculture in the Northeastern U.S. was  hosted by the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY on from Oct 20-22, 2013. Omega also hosted the first Women’s Permaculture Teacher Training in the summer of 2015, and it will happen again in 2016.

 

Profiles of Women in Permaculture

When interviewing women for the “Women in Permaculture” article for the “Permaculture Activist” magazine, many women told me they find it hard to promote their work. Many also stated that the predominantly white and middle class face of permaculture in many industrialized countries doesn’t truly represent the people working with permaculture. We all lamented the lack of connection with our sisters in other less industrialized parts of the world.

To counteract this, the SEEDS website will feature profiles of women working in permaculture (teachers, designers, organizers, producers, activists, etc) or with permaculture (ngos, subcontractors, community leaders, childcare providers at permaculture courses, activists, homesteaders, etc.) These profiles will make visible and re-value the wide array of vital contributions by women to the field of permaculture, create networking opportunities, and inspire all of us. We especially invite you to support women in less developed countries to participate. We need to hear your voices.

This profile isn’t your typical “bio.” Instead, we invite women to please state, in about 250 words, your particular contribution to permaculture… where do you “create value” for yourself, and/or your clients, and/or your community: people and the natural world?  Please also send 3-5 pictures of you in action.  Include contact info so that people can contact you.

You don’t have to be an internationally known permaculture superstar to do this. We want to profile well-known women!…  but we also want to profile the quiet homesteader who is feeding her family from their permaculture applications, in order to revalue the many ways in which women live and work with permaculture.

In addition, women and men are also invited to pay homage to women in permaculture who influenced your work. Please share how she “created value” for you—through mentorship, being a role model, personal support, etc. Please check with the women before you send pictures—but we would love several pictures that show her at work.

Please use the contact form to send us a note stating your intention to submit a profile so we can get put you in our posting schedule. You can also use that form to opt-in to receive other updates from SEEDs about the cool things women are doing around the world with permaculture.

Many women I interviewed for the “Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture” article mentioned the long, dedicated career of Rosemary Morrow in permaculture, and wished she were better known globally. I contacted Rosemary and requested her to tell us about herself. Her profile is the first one posted on this site. I hope many more will follow.

My intuition tells me we’re on the cusp of building something big together.

With gratitude!
Karryn

Women in Permaculture

10

This article was published in the “Permaculture Activist” magazine in August of 2013. This version is edited slightly, with longer captions, more pictures, and hyperlinks.

Though women receive the majority of all college degrees in the U.S., and are well represented in the work force, they are very under-represented in positions of high-level leadership. Most of the women I’ve encountered in permaculture note analogous patterns: often, women constitute 50% or more of the participants in PDCs, yet occupy disproportionately few of the positions of leadership and prominence in lucrative roles, such as designers, teachers, authors, speakers, or “permaculture superstars.”

To address this situation, this article drafts “A Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture.” Each pattern can be applied in many ways and names a core solution to a problem that undermines women’s full participation and leadership. Just as words connect to form a language, one can connect these patterns to form a language that describes good social design practices.

This approach is modeled after the book, A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander et al,  in which the authors write, ”Each pattern may be looked upon as a hypothesis… and are therefore all tentative, all free to evolve under the impact of new experience and observation.” Using the same analogy, I invite your input to help craft this new language.

Read more…

 

Women Rocking Permaculture

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 10.36.28 AMOn the front page of the May 31 Seattle Times Sunday Edition, Jessi Bloom was named “a rock star in the ecological gardening movement.”

I did a victory dance in my office when I saw the online version of this article—because permaculture was in the headlines, and the feature included eye-popping photos and text capable of making many suburbanites pick up the phone to call a permaculture designer. AND because this very visible rock star is obviously a very powerful woman—Jessi is a pioneering businessperson, award-winning designer, in-demand speaker and author, as well as a weightlifter, ex roller-derby queen, and a mother.

This reminded me of another visual feast I enjoyed this spring—when I saw the sumptuous film, “Inhabit” in a local theater. Often, when I hear about a big permaculture event, my enthusiasm is tempered by an expectation of seeing a homogenous representation of the folks in permaculture. Instead, I was relieved to see people from many walks of life included, and one-third of the permaculture luminaries showcased were women—including two women that I consider colleagues and friends—Pandora Thomas and Lisa Depiano.

Why does the gender of permaculture rock stars matter? An article in the 2013 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology sums it up: “Women are less likely than men to be associated with leadership, and the awareness of this stereotype may undermine women’s performance in leadership tasks. One way to circumvent this stereotype threat is to expose women to highly successful female role models.”

In 2013, when I interviewed women for the “Pattern Language for Women in Permaculture” article, most said that women were not at parity as teachers, designers or “rock star” status in their regions, and instead were underrepresented in these roles, while overrepresented in the unpaid or underpaid organizing roles. If women were at or above parity as leaders in a region, it was because there was a strong, supportive group of women in permaculture present.

In short, the more often women / people of color / or any other diverse identity see role models who look and think and act like us, the more likely we are to step into leadership. Since the world needs all of us to step into audacious leadership to co-create our regenerative future, diverse leadership leverages win-win outcomes. In the comments field below, please feel free to share the names of other women who are rocking their permaculture livelihoods.

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