Female farmers have called for greater recognition of their specific challenges and more support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to advance gender equality in Europe’s rural areas
Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow (March 8), the Women’s Committee of the EU’s main farming organisation Copa-Cogeca organised an event on “Strong rural women for strong rural Europe” today (March 7).
The conference highlighted the challenges faced by women working in agricultural production and food processing as well as their crucial contribution to the rural economy.
“Most of the time, women are put into vulnerable situations compared to their male counterparts in agriculture and they have difficulties in terms of access to land, capital, education, and training,” Romanian MEP Gabriela Zoana (S&D) declared.
“The CAP must address women’s needs, we need to come up with measures and policies to advance gender equality in rural areas,” she argued.
As rapporteur for the post-2020 Regulation on the national Strategic Plans, Zoana has tabled a number of amendments to “mainstream this gender approach” in the EU’s agricultural policies.
Among others, she calls for the inclusion of sub-thematic programmes on women’s needs, the collection of sex-aggregated data by the European Commission, and the possibility for member states to develop gender indicators in their national strategies.
Similarly, Croatian MEP Marijana Petir (EPP), who dedicated an own-initiative report to the issue, expressed hope that “the new rules on the Strategic Plans set a good basis to keep thematic sub-programmes that support women in rural areas, while making them far less complicated”
Lotta Folkesson, the Chairwoman of Copa-Cogeca’s Women Committee, also stressed the need to support women’s activities due to their key role in the development and preservation of rural areas.
“We hope that the future CAP will include specific measures on gender equality to close the gap on female entrepreneurship,” the Swedish farmer said.
“We hope that the future CAP will include specific measures on gender equality to close the gap on female entrepreneurship” – Lotta Folkesson, Copa-Cogeca’s Women Committee.
EU official Lene Naesanger argued that the European Commission already encourages women and promotes their role in the development of rural areas, although she acknowledged that “more could be done”.
“We are open to new ideas,” she said.
Naesanger explained that there are already many possibilities to support women under the Rural Development Programmes, but claimed they have not reached their full potential because many member states have not implemented the available tools and instruments.
Female farmers’ work remains undervalued
The conference showcased three inspirational stories of specific farming projects led by women with an outspoken social, economic and educational added value.
Polish entrepreneur Magdalena Wiegel, who set up a trout farm together with her daughter, emphasised that the role of women often remains invisible and undervalued.
“The biggest problem for us was that men often struggled to accept the leadership of women, it took time before they saw as us equal partners,” she told participants.
To counter these persisting stereotypes and negative perceptions, Wiegel decided to launch a women’s group to make their involvement in agriculture more noticeable.
“But we need a little support sometimes, a helping hand,” she said in reference to the needed agricultural policy measures.
Afterwards, Laura Bargione presented the social activities set up on her organic farm to help (re-)integrate migrants and psychological patients into society, while dairy farmer Chantal Legay talked about how she organises educational farm visits to learn school children about food production.
The three speakers all stressed that women should believe in themselves and strive to realise their dreams, whether they are active farming and food or in other sectors.
Achieving gender equality could take up to thirty years
Towards the end of the event, Clara Serrano from Corteva Agriscience, the Agriculture Division of the chemical company DowDuPont, presented the findings of a survey conducted among 800 female farmers across five European countries
The poll showed that 68% of European women working in the farming sector still consider gender discrimination and structural inequalities to be “widespread”, whereas 38% considered the situation to be equal to or worse than ten years ago.
The large majority of respondents (75%) believed that it would take at least one to three decades to achieve full gender equality.
More than a third (38%) also reported lower income and less access to financing them men.
High on the list of concerns were financial stability, the welfare of their families, and achieving a work-life balance.
The need for training was most commonly cited as an important way to remove gender inequality, with 80% of respondents calling it necessary to take advantage of agricultural technologies.
Other key remedies outlined were more academic education (cited by 79%); more support to help women experiencing gender discrimination (76%); and raising awareness of female success stories and of gender discrimination in the sector (75%).
Women make up third of EU farmers
The latest official Eurostat data clearly indicate that women take up far fewer roles in the European agricultural sector than men.
In 2016, just 28.5% of EU farm managers were women, meaning that male farmers were formally in charge of the holding in seven out of ten cases (71.5%).