Women’s History Month Highlight

One African Woman’s Story: Choosing between divorce and a degree, a career or a family

By Jeff Haskins

As part of her work, Rufaro Madakadze was visiting a student in northern Ethiopia recently to discuss her acceptance into an elite crop breeding program in South Africa. She was one of the cream of the crop, one of a privileged few, and the only woman, that had been in accepted by a program set up by the Alliance for a Green Revolution or AGRA to train the next generation of African farm scientists at African universities. Rufaro was shocked when the young aspiring scientist told her that she would not be able to attend. Her husband would not allow it.

She had a choice: divorce or a degree?

These are the choices that talented young, African women looking for careers in science are forced to make. Programs focused on empowering women in any sector, particularly in agriculture, must understand these trade-offs and be flexible enough to ensure the needs of women are served.

Although women are the bulk of the farm workforce, most researchers leading farm innovation, government officials making farm policy, and extension workers advising farmers are men. This gender balance drives inequality of women farmers overall.

The stakes are high.

A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report estimates that opening up access to women farmers to extension services, credit, fertilizer, improved seed, and other farming requirements could increase total agriculture output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent—or approximately 100 to 150 million people. Improving gender balance in farming starts with the science behind farming.

Ultimately, the young Ethiopian woman chose divorce to her husband. She’s now re-married and finishing up her degree in South Africa.

Jeff Haskins is writer based in Nairobi  and originally posted this article on AllAfrica.com


  1. It’s the idiot first husband’s loss and the new husband and South Africa’s gain.