Agrifood Special CAPitals Brief: Women in agriculture
While the importance of women in the farming sector and rural communities is widely acknowledged, across EU member states women remain underrepresented in senior and leadership roles. Women make up only 29% of farm managers across the EU, a number which also hides significant disparities between countries.
To mark the month of March, which celebrates International Women’s Day on the 8th, EURACTIV’s network takes a look at the situation for women in the agricultural sector across 9 member states in this special CAPitals edition of the agrifood brief.
Women gaining ground, but gaps remain. In France, women represent one-third of the agricultural workforce, of which one-quarter are farm managers, co-managers or partners. While women were only 8% of the total agricultural workforce in 1979, there has been a steady upward trend over the last 10 years, with women making up 27% of the labour force in 2016.
Women are also making considerable progress in the governing bodies of cooperatives and unions.
The president of France’s largest union, the FNSEA, is currently Christiane Lambert, who is also the head of the farming half of the EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA.
The roles most taken up by women farmers – a term that appeared in the French dictionary in 1961 – are in the breeding of large animals such as horses (48.5%), in poultry farming or rabbit farming (34%) – though the figures are far lower in sectors such as woodworking (1.5%) or landscaping companies (4%).
However, women still suffer from disadvantages compared to men and women in other sectors.
For example, as things currently stand, the pay of women farmers is still 29% lower than that of men, i.e. a quarter more than in other sectors.
It was not until 2019 that the duration of maternity leave was brought into line with that of employees, and not until 2021 that women’s pensions, which were on average 19.5% lower than their male counterparts, were revalued under the Chassaigne law.
At the local level, initiatives are flourishing. The regional group, “Agriculture au Féminin: Égalité – Parité”, created in 2007 by the Breton chambers of agriculture, works with women to help them access positions of responsibility or coordinate family responsibilities around their profession. In 2022, a similar initiative, Terre de femmes, was launched in Mayenne.
In its latest report on the subject, Oxfam France recommended specific aid for the installation or the introduction of quotas for women on boards of directors and supervisory boards, as already exists in large companies. This is also what the senators proposed in an information report in 2017. (Hugo Struna | EURACTIV.fr)
Lagging behind on female farm managers. With only around one in 10 farms managed by women, Germany is lagging behind many other EU countries when it comes to gender parity in agriculture. Meanwhile, among those set to inherit or otherwise take over farms, only one in five are women, according to a report published last year.
A key reason for this gender gap is the pervasiveness of traditional gender roles in agriculture, according to a sociological study that was commissioned by the country’s agriculture ministry and presented earlier this month. For the researchers, traditional inheritance structures often play a role in family farms especially.
Alongside the fact that women often work on family farms without having a formal role, such disparities also threaten the financial security of women in the sector. In the case of divorce or death of their partners, many are left with nothing, according to the study, and the risk of female old-age poverty is especially high in agriculture.
Meanwhile, farming subsidy programmes like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are often not geared towards women, according to Juliane Vees, the first vice-president of the German Association of Women in Agriculture.
Despite the fact that Germany’s CAP strategic plan identifies gender equality as a high-priority matter, women face greater hurdles in accessing funds, she explained in a recent interview with EURACTIV. Among other things, this is due to the gap in farm management, as many funds are administered to managers.
Vees also pointed out that there is a data gap on women in agriculture, which means the data to inform policy choices is largely missing. However, she welcomed the ministry’s recent study as a good first step to remedy this. (Julia Dahm| EURACTIV.com)
Every third farm female-led. More than 33% of Austrian farms are female-led, according to government data. However, fewer women are represented in critical sectoral roles.
Last year, 30 agriculture associations signed a joint charter for better inclusion of women in agricultural lobbying. With their signature, the organisations committed to bringing the share of women up to at least 30% in all committees. Topics discussed should also take account of women’s and men’s interests equally, according to the charter.
Meanwhile, female farm managers also tend to lead smaller farms than their male counterparts, according to the agriculture ministry, and give up their farms more often. The share of female managers is also higher for older age brackets, suggesting that, over time, the share is set to decline rather than increase.
According to a government report, one reason for the comparatively high share of female farm managers in Austria likely is that the country’s agriculture sector is characterised by mountain farming, where men often pursue alternative income sources such as agritourism alongside farming.
Austria’s CAP strategic plan sets out a number of different measures aimed at boosting the role of women in agriculture. This includes, among other things, creating new employment opportunities and better working conditions to avoid the exodus of well-trained young women.
The plan also aims at “improving the compatibility of family, job and private life” in farming, especially for women. (Julia Dahm| EURACTIV.com)
Better representation on the ground, but lacking in agricultural organisations. In Spain, women make up around 25% of the agricultural workforce, according to the latest Economically Active Population Survey of the National Institute of Statistics. Women also hold or own 28.4% of Spanish farms.
But when analysing boards of directors in agricultural organisations or agrifood companies, it is clear that there is still a long way to go. None of the farmers’ organisations are led by women, while there is only one female deputy general secretary, in the second position on the board of the UPA (Union of Small Farmers).
Many women work in positions with a technical profile. Within the different sectors, olive oil is the one that reflects the most progress when it comes to incorporating women into management positions.
During the negotiations of the CAP 2023-2027, Spain made gender one of the main focus points of its national strategic plan. Within the first pillar of the CAP, the national plan includes a budget of €96.5 million to support young and new farmers, on the first 100 hectares. If the applicant is a woman, 15% more aid will be offered. (Mercedes Salas | EFEAGRO)
Female agricultural entrepreneurship still too often remains ‘invisible’. According to data from the association that protects and represents Italian farmers, Confagricoltura, more than 200,000 agricultural enterprises are run by women in Italy. Many of these are under 35, accounting for about a third of the total.
Overall, there are 203,503 active women-led businesses in agriculture, representing 28.2% of the total, compared to 239,218 in 2012.
According to Confagricoltura’s data, women engaged in corporations and partnerships show particular dynamism, particularly in the 18 to 29 age group, reaching just under 34%, which demonstrates the acquired awareness of the importance of building female-led networks. Ten years ago, women accounted for only 14% of the total.
According to this data, women-led enterprises contribute significant positive social and economic consequences.
However, female agricultural entrepreneurship still too often remains ‘invisible’, according to Alessandra Oddi Baglioni, president of Confagricoltura Donna.
“For women’s businesses, agriculture is not lagging behind, quite the contrary. Female-run businesses in Italy are about 21%, while in our sector they exceed 28%,” she said. (EURACTIV.it)
Polish agriculture is characterised by relatively high participation of women. As many as 43% of those involved in agriculture in Poland are women. Female farmers also manage 29% of the country’s farms; for the EU, the figures are, respectively: 35% and 28%.
In 2019, as many as 8 million Polish women worked in agriculture. The average size of a farm run by women is 6 hectares, half the average for men. The value of agricultural production is €6,000 for women and €21,000 for men.
On 8 March 2022, the Council of Women in Agriculture was established under the Ministry
of Agriculture and Anna Gembicka, secretary of state at the ministry of agriculture and rural affairs was appointed chair of the new body.
“Women’s voice, including in agriculture and the agri-food sector, is increasingly being
heard. This is reflected in the actions of the Ministry, not least in the establishment of this
Council,” she said.
“For the first time in history, we have a situation where the heads of agricultural institutions under the Ministry are actually women. Women are also leaders in many trade
organisations, trade unions, NGOs, and of course, of the farmers’ housewives’ circles,” Gembicka added.
The task of the Council of Women in Agriculture, as an advisory body, is to propose to the
Ministry solutions that benefit women working in agriculture. (EURACTIV.pl)
Gender equality key focus for Romania. One of the specific objectives of Romania’s national strategic plan 2023-2027 is to promote gender equality, including women’s participation in agriculture, social inclusion, and local development in rural areas.
According to statistical data, in agriculture and forestry, there is a major imbalance between women and men. For example, the number of male managers is more than four times higher than the number of female managers.
On the other hand, women make up the lion’s share of those working in the vegetable and flower sectors, as well as in agritourism.
Through the national rural development programme 2014-2020, Romania received European funds for 11,531 women with agriculture businesses and women with non-agricultural businesses in rural areas, according to data provided to EURACTIV by the ministry of agriculture.
Of the total number of women beneficiaries of European funds, 7,223 are in the category of young farmers – under 40 years old – and they received €354.8 million. Meanwhile, 4,308 women are over 40 with financing contracts worth €106.6 million. (Manuela Preoteasa | EURACTIV.ro)
Bulgarian agriculture remains a ‘male territory’. The share of women managers of agricultural holdings in Bulgaria was only 28% in 2020, according to the data from the federation of independent trade unions in agriculture.
“The tendency for agriculture in Bulgaria to be reserved as a ‘male territory’ continues, regardless of the fact that many women successfully manage businesses in the agriculture sector,” the union told EURACTIV Bulgaria in its commentary on the data. The majority of seasonal workers are also men.
Although many farms in Bulgaria are family businesses in which all family members participate equally, only 25% of the agricultural workforce outside the family structures are women.
The agricultural union has been insisting for years that Bulgaria should start developing thematic programs for women in rural areas. The idea is that these programs can improve women farmers’ access to land, credit or financial instruments.
“Member states and farmers can create an EU-level platform for risk management and capacity building in agriculture by providing farmers with appropriate financial instruments for investment and access to working capital, training, knowledge transfer and consultancy,” the Bulgarian federation of independent trade unions said.
Taking into account existing gender inequalities, including gender inequality in digital technologies, projects should address gender equality. According to a EuroFound study, trade unions tend to deal with issues related to equal pay for women, while employers pay relatively less attention to this issue.
The gender pay gap is therefore lowest in countries where the level of collective bargaining is higher.
At the moment, the union is implementing a long-term campaign on the theme – ‘Let’s open our eyes to women in agriculture’ – which aims to raise publicly the problems facing women in agriculture. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)
As previously reported by EURACTIV Greece, out of over 300,000 registered farmers, around 46% are women.
A few months back, the Greek ministry of rural development and agriculture announced that the majority (53.48%) of beneficiaries in a variety of European programmes are women.
Of those, 33% of young farmers are women, compared to 45.4% in small farms, while 54.2% of pensioners are female former farmers.
Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by the labour ministry, the number of agricultural cooperatives registered by women has doubled from 71 in the 2000s to 141.
All these are strong indicators of active female participation in the Greek agricultural sector, but the working rights of women farmers remain vague, notably in the context of the emerging phenomenon of “false employment” registration.
“Many women farmers continue to be economically dependent (…) or, most of them, often are registered as ‘helpers’ of their husbands”, the deputy minister of labour and social affairs, Maria Syreggela, told EURACTIV Greece.
Additionally, only 36% of the country’s fields are cultivated by women, ranking Greece among member states with the lowest presence of female landowners according to Eurostat data from 2016.
Encouraging the participation of women in the primary sector is a shared responsibility of the ministries of rural development and labour and social affairs, which have to implement the EU principle of gender mainstreaming in their policies and measures.
The LEADER program is one of the most important tools to achieve this in Greece, with the main objective to increase the attractiveness of the countryside, especially for young people and women through measures that inclusion and local development in rural areas. (Marianthi Pelekanaki | EURACTIV.gr)