Sisters and the Seed: Why Women should lead the charge on Hemp Clothing

Sisters and the Seed: Why Women should lead the charge on Hemp Clothing

'Inclusion' has been a human resources buzzword for the last decade - something that belittles the actual class struggle that occurs in our workplaces every day. Gender disparity in companies' upper management and ownership structures closely correlates with unequal pay and the frequency of abusive workplaces. But why does that matter - and what does it have to do with hemp clothing and fashion?

Society is failing Women's aspirations

Only 14% of the leading fashion brands have a female executive, and women lead less than 13% of Fortune 1000 Retail and Apparel companies. However, it's important to contextualise this failure of representation in company leadership with how western capitalist nations are generally failing women - particularly those from poor and working-class backgrounds - in education, healthcare and social mobility. 

In the first instance, young women across Europe and the US are pressured through popular culture and a failing education system away from science and leadership development. Next, the social expectation for a woman to work for free - that is, give birth to and raise a child that will join the future labour force - takes a considerable proportion out of the workplace; those women themselves are made to feel uncomfortable for doing so. A recent UK Government study found that 77% of women had a discriminatory experience at work during pregnancy. We've not even touched upon the scale of abuse faced by women entering the workforce - an estimated 34% of working US women have experienced sexual abuse. The third is the average pay disparity - UK women take home 16.1% less than their male counterparts.


At the other end of the company hierarchy, women are overrepresented in the vast majority of the fashion industry's garment workers – approximately 80% are women from the Global South. Employers take advantage of cultural stereotypes and abusive norms to coerce high productivity and profit levels. Gender discrimination is rife in these countries - validated by continued financing from western 'entrepreneurs'. 

Why would anyone put themselves through any of that? Why SHOULD anyone go through that? Only the exceptionally privileged, hard-headed, or those with a robust community support network manage to break through this glass ceiling. 

We need to build a new economy and style of the workplace from the ground up. We need a workplace that places human welfare at its heart instead of simply exploiting labour for the profit of the rich. Hemp represents a golden opportunity to do just that.

The History of Dispossessing Women

It didn't always use to be like this. Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish philosopher and political leader, said:

"Liberating life is impossible without a radical women's revolution which would change man's mentality and life. If we are unable to make peace between man and life and life and woman, happiness is but a vain hope…the female and male gender identities that we know today are constructs that were formed much later than the biological female and male. Woman has been exploited for thousands of years according to this constructed identity; never acknowledged for their labour. Man has to overcome always seeing woman as wife, sister, or lover – stereotypes forged by tradition and modernity."

How did we get to this point, where the role of women in society is one of exploitation? Previously, women had played an enormous role in the first European agricultural revolution over 6,000 years ago. As documented by historian Elise Boulding in 'Women and the Agricultural Revolution, women were integral in the identification, documentation and cultivation of subsistence crops throughout the Neolithic period - from between 12,000-8000 BCE. As the agricultural revolution continued, women went from simply tending fields to creating tools and managing large tracts of land. During this period, men often spent much time away, supplementing the harvest with hunting.


Soon, however, the economies of 'surplus' came into play, and the male-dominated merchant class emerged from the former hunter class. Subsistence farms soon gave way to agriculture-for-trade. As property holdings grew, families needed to make decisions about land management. During this period, the senior woman of a family and her daughters and sons formed the property-holding unit for the family. 


However, as the material power of the merchant class increased, so did its desire for more land, money and power. European and American history shows us how women were slowly ousted from the local economies that they built. Witch hunts became a tool of the ruling classes to distract people from their poverty and unequal society while assassinating independent women of means and expropriating their land. The most famous, the Salem Witch Hunts, were motivated by bitter land feuds in colonial-era America. 


The cultural notion of a woman as a 'demure householder' with no self-agency, save that of her husband's wishes, is a more contemporary invention. The role of women in the greater economy has since been reduced to that of an unpaid childbearing and rearing machine. 

"Throughout the history of civilisations, [the woman] has been placed on the ground floor of society where she does her unpaid housework, raises the children and keeps the family together; duties that form the actual basis of capitalist accumulation. Indeed, no other society has had the power to develop and systemise the exploitation of women to the degree that capitalism has." - Öcalan


As noted in our previous blog, most of the fashion sector's global sweatshop labour is filled by women. Brands such as BooHoo, ASOS, Primark, Walmart, etc., profit billions from unpaid labour - while women and their families starve. 

Hemp, agriculture and community ownership: the path to women's liberation

In the modern era, women and young girls comprise over half of the global agricultural workforce. In the Global South, to which the so-called developed world outsources its food production, the majority of the farming population - which comprises women - lacks the economic resources and capacity to invest in appropriate agricultural technologies, as well as the knowledge to implement improved farming practices.


Women experience difficulty accessing land ownership, extension services, and finance. Agricultural credit, for instance, is critical for farmers to manage the seasonality of agricultural income and expenditures and to invest in technologies and long-term farm improvements. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation 2017 study saw that countries with high gender inequality had lower land productivity - a primary driver of 'economic migration' by rural populations. Women will therefore bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change. 


Despite lower land productivity, it's interesting to note that the big four global food multinationals - Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, who control phenomenal tracts of farmland across the Global South - enjoyed record profits, despite there being global food shortages


The first path to fixing this comes from land rights. Most farmers around the world are tenant farmers, meaning they rent. Their means of survival are owned by landlords, who, for the most part, are subsidiaries of multinationals. Or Bill Gates. The primary purpose of this land becomes profit-driven - with no community say or representation into what happens on that land. Agriculture (including land-use change) accounts for over 24% of global emissions - and it's agriculture that local communities don't get a say in. Strengthening land rights for indigenous peoples has been long-identified as an efficient way to fight climate change. Ensuring that women are adequately represented in ownership and management structures - preferably through community ownership, is the first step in ensuring equity. 

The second is choosing the right kind of agriculture. Monoculture, while hugely profitable for big landowners, is environmentally damaging. Many staple crops - maise, wheat, etc. - are single-use crops. Hemp, as we've mentioned on multiple occasions, is a multi-use crop with many outputs. It contributes to sustainable farming practices like permaculture and lives well alongside other plants and grasses.


The third is providing equal access to education and opportunity through dismantling hierarchies and abusive social relations. 


Women in front - the sign that things are getting better

Many (often bald and red) men's rights activists argue that arbitrarily putting women into positions of power and property is terrible. They're right, setting aside the little fact that men have enjoyed that privilege for a couple of millennia. A reasonably recent webcomic illustrates the crappy side of identity politics - inserted below. 

If women or marginalised peoples are merely replicating the systems of their oppression - it's not liberation. For example, see Margaret Thatcher, Liz Truss, Theresa May, Suella Braverman, Margerie Tayor-Green and Priti Patel. 


When we see more women represented in economic leadership and sustainable community management and development positions, we will know that fundamental societal transformation is afoot. Here's another great quote about that!

"The extent to which society can be thoroughly transformed is determined by the extent of the transformation attained by women. Similarly, the level of women's freedom and equality determines the freedom and equality of all sections of society. Thus, democratisation of women is decisive for the permanent establishment of democracy and secularism. For a democratic nation, women's freedom is of great importance too, as liberated women constitute a liberated society. Liberated society in turn constitutes a democratic nation." - Öcalan.

Hemp farming - and in a broader context, sustainable fashion - represents a new framework to forge an ethical economy. The use of hemp, and the development of a hemp-orientated supply chain, would be both an environmental and social win. We've discussed the material benefits of hemp on several occasions, from construction materials to food to natural fibres. Eco-friendly and sustainable hemp production has revitalised regions suffering from poor soil quality. Hemp cultivation is more efficient at fixing carbon dioxide into valuable products, and hemp farming uses less water and requires none of the pesticides that many other crops do.

It's little surprise that many women seeking a career in agriculture are getting their hands dirty with our little green sister, Cannabis Sativa. A sustainable and ethical hemp fashion industry would be the perfect partner to an inclusion drive - sustainable hemp turned into sustainable fabrics in worker-owned factories run in the interests of the workers and the communities in which they reside.

In the meantime, supporting women in industrial hemp is a good start.

Here are a few of the women doing amazing things in hemp who we should support:


Shibani Shetty - LESS

Bangalore-based Shibani is a young business leader, working with rural workers in Uttarakhand to produce one of India's few CBD and hemp brands. She's one of many individuals bringing the hemp industry kicking and screaming into a conservative India. Learn more about her here


Jeannette Ward Horton - NuProject


Jeanette is the co-founder and CEO of NuProject, an NGO that works across many different areas that intersect with hemp, cannabis and the Black, Native and Latin communities. It provides funding for cannabis businesses geared toward POC, arranging business education and mentoring, and contributing to equity policy development. NuProject is designed to deliver both positive social and ecological outcomes.


Dreu VanHoose - VanHoose Hemp Co.

Dreu is a first-generation hemp farmer growing on her family land, producing salves and tinctures for her rural Alabama community - and customers across the states. She's also a representative of the Young National Union of Farmers.

Jade Proudman - Savage Cabbage

We might be a little biased here, as Jade is a close friend of THTC. However, what she's achieved in the last few years alone is a credit to the cannabis and hemp community. From patient to global brand ambassador for Charlotte's Web, with a spot of policy development at UK and EU levels on the side, Jade is a northern working-class lass through and through. Her experience as a nurse in the NHS has informed her business ethos - ethical and affordable, putting customer care at the fore and fighting for equitable hemp and cannabis reform at the highest levels of civil society.

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