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WGD Discussion Series

Upcoming Speakers

12:30 - 1:30 p.m., Thursday, March 16, 2023
Newman Library Multipurpose Room (first floor, Room 101) and Zoom 

Jessica R. Spence

Speaking for themselves: The importance of enabling Ugandan women to share their story through photography and community dialogue

  • Jessica R. Spence, Ph.D. student and Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science Fellow, Virginia Tech.

 Jessica R. Spence is an experienced researcher in gender-based agriculture issues and international agricultural education. She was most recently a program coordinator at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture for the USDA-FAS-funded International Agricultural Education Fellowship Program, where she worked and lived in Ghana overseeing and managing the program aimed at increasing school-based agriculture education in conjunction with 4H Ghana. She is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses gender-based agriculture issues and school-based agriculture education within international development. She gained both a B.S. in Agricultural Communications and Journalism, and M.S. in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at Texas A&M University. Her master’s thesis studied the experience of female smallholder farmers in Northern Uganda through photovoice methodology. She is focused on conducting research aimed at the empowerment of women farmers across the developing world. 

Abstract: “Agriculture is the backbone of the country,” is a commonly heard phrase in Uganda. With agriculture making up nearly a quarter of Uganda’s GDP, and nearly 70 percent of the country’s population working in this sector, this is true. However, the muscle operating said backbone is exercised daily by Ugandan women. Not only do significantly more women work in the agriculture sector than men in Uganda, but women’s contribution is also typically under-estimated and under-appreciated. Usually charged with child-rearing, home-keeping, cooking, and a host of other responsibilities, women often take charge of the farm and garden in smallholder farming families. In addition to these unbalanced and gendered responsibilities, women do not often retain financial control over the money earned from their labor and suffer from physical and emotional abuse from their male counterparts. There is increasing awareness of, and efforts to end, the vast disparities women face within this sector, namely the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 5, Gender Equality. This lecture will focus on the independence and self-identity women agriculturalists have as farmers, and how that identity, coupled with their responsibilities to their families, make them a unique and strong powerhouse for agricultural development and social change. Through photovoice methodology, groups of women living in two different communities in Uganda allowed a researcher to conduct a study aimed at delving into their lives as women agriculture producers, and specifically the changes they face in agriculture due to their gender. A surprising phenomenon occurred within this study, wherein all participants decided to take self-portraits of themselves as part of their photovoice. The study resulted in themes that supported these harsh realities, including technical challenges, patriarchal society, physical fatigue, and varied agriculture practices, but also, through their self-portraits, gave evidence of self-identity and independence as “women farmers.” The personal identity and independence felt by these women provide evidence of the responsibility felt towards their family, children, and duties as a farmer.

12:30 - 2 p.m., Thursday, April 13, 2023
Newman Library Multipurpose Room (first floor, Room 101) and Zoom  

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Food, gender, and identity in a global context: an inter-disciplinary conversation with acclaimed culinary writer Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

  • Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, journalist and author.
  • This event is co-sponsored by the Food Studies Program; the Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation; the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series; the Department of Geography; the School of Visual Arts; the Women’s and Gender Studies Program; and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Mini-Grant.

This WGD Discussion Series event will be hosted in a panel format featuring Nina Mukerjee Furstenau and four faculty members from different divisions of Virginia Tech as panelists. The guest speaker and panelists will facilitate a discussion on the relationship between food and food preparation on one hand, and gender and cultural identity on the other.

Bio: Nina Mukerjee Furstenau is a journalist, author, and editor of the FoodStory book series for the University of Iowa Press. She was a Fulbright Global research scholar (2018-19), is on the board of directors for Media for Change, and has won the MFK Fisher Book Award, the Grand Prize Award for Culture/Culinary Writing from Les Dames d'Escoffier International, a Kansas Notable Book award, and more. Green Chili & Other Impostors (Chilies, Chhana, and Rasa in India), her most recent work was published in October 2021 in the U.S. and December 2021 in India. Other published works include the award-winning book, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland, as well as Tasty! Mozambique, Savor Missouri: River Hills Country Food and Wine, and numerous stories and essays for newspapers and magazines. She engages as a speaker at conferences such as Nonfiction Now, Unbound Book, Iowa City Book Festival, Food, Fork and Pen, and more.

Abstract:  Food reveals a nuanced trail into the history of a region, what makes comfort there, how worship is celebrated; it reveals the labor involved in fields and kitchens, the trees that fruit, and the soils that sustain. Food story is also a personal journey connected with that community tale. Because of its universality, the sensory act of eating and the story behind that act can reach across boundaries of gender, education, access, conflict, geography, and politics in accessible ways. This approach creates opportunities for not only food research, but for a deep dive into gender roles and identity in a global context. This presentation takes a look at the uneven distribution of information between women and men due to gendered norms, literacy of women, divisions of labor, access to resources, and power relations in the context of food story. In journalism, writers learn to focus on the “five Ws,” and who, what, when, and where often make headlines across media platforms. Time and again, however, it is the last W, why, that is the heart of the story, and the pivot point in social science research. The talk closes with an overview of the field research behind Tasty! Mozambique as an example of using food story to reach across boundaries such as gender and education, followed by discussion on the need to understand cultural settings with a social science approach within research.


  • Maria Elisa Christie,
    Director, Women and Gender in International Development, Center for International Research, Education, and Development, Outreach and International Affairs.
  • Kim L. Niewolny,
    Associate Professor, Community Education and Development at the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences & Director, Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation.
  • Ozzie Obaye,
    Professor, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
  • Anna Zeide,
    Associate Professor, Department of History & Founding Director, Food Studies Program, College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences.

About the series

The Women and Gender in International Development Discussion Series is organized by the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) and is an InclusiveVT initiative of Outreach and International Affairs (OIA).  Students, faculty, staff and members of the community are encouraged to attend the discussions and bring their ideas and questions. 

The WGD program has sponsored a monthly discussion series for over a decade. Thanks to the support of OIA, the program is able to bring international speakers as well as others from across the United States. We have also received support from the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Endowed Lecture Fund, Women’s and Gender Studies, Women's Center, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Global Programs, the Department of Geography, the Department of History, the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Africana Studies and other programs and departments at Virginia Tech.

The series offers an opportunity for scholars and development practitioners to share their research and knowledge surrounding gender and international development with the Virginia Tech community and beyond.

Contact us

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Past events

Please visit our Past Events Archive for information on the previous Discussion Series and speakers.