Women are the backbone of farming, yet many see the culture as challenging
Breaking the glass ceiling can be difficult for women in any industry, and it seems that agriculture is no exception.
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s has an Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee that on International Women’s Day 2022 launched its Breaking the Grass Ceiling Report that highlights the barriers faced by local women working in agriculture. The report also makes a number of recommendations on practical and policy measures that could be introduced to promote, encourage and support women in the sector.
The report highlights the barriers faced by women working in agriculture, highlighting that their roles have often been overlooked for decades. Additionally, issues including traditional practices of farm inheritance, have prevented many women from entering and thriving in what is typically seen as a male-dominated environment. Some 70 per cent of women say they feel culture in the agriculture sector can prove challenging.
Complex challenges faced by women in agriculture
Pictured (left-right) are Clare Bailey MLA, Rosemary Barton MLA, David Brown, Deputy President Ulster Farmers' Union, Declan McAleer MLA, Committee Chairperson and Louise Coyle, Director, Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network.
Committee Chairperson, Declan McAleer Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), said, “In carrying out this review it was vitally important to us that we heard from women directly. We were therefore delighted to receive nearly 180 responses to our survey from women living or working in the local agriculture industry. Our findings highlight the complexity of challenges faced by women and the range of practical, social and cultural barriers which prevent them from taking on opportunities and progressing in the sector.”
“Our survey also found that as well as undertaking hands-on tasks, many women in the sector juggle their work with running the household, managing finances and paperwork as well as looking after children and older relatives. Some 67% of respondents noted that they also hold down jobs off the farm,” he continued.
Women are the backbone of farming families
The good news, however, is that women are identified as playing a crucial role within the farming and agriculture sector and are in many ways the "backbone of family farms, often spearheading diversification and modernisation,” according to Declan McAleer.
Further positive news sees 98 per cent of respondents involved in the research behind the report agreeing that women help improve farm productivity. The report also highlighted a number of recommendations on practical and policy measures that could be introduced to promote, encourage and support women in the sector.
Breaking the bias
Change is indeed happening, with Scotland having implemented a series of effective measures following the recommendations of a Women in Agriculture Taskforce.
Aditionally, explains Declan: "The Irish Government has pledged to increase grant support for women farmers to upgrade their machinery and equipment, and to establish women-only knowledge groups.”
“We are now calling on the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs to follow suit by implementing our recommendations and to begin this process by commissioning an independent, academically led review to understand further, the issues affecting women in the agricultural sector,” he said.
Declan concurred that the review won't necessarily level the playing field for women overnight, however, the committee is confident that it will "shine a light on the key issues and provide a clear path towards developing a holistic approach to policy change within the sector."
Discussing the need for greater awareness of the barriers faced by women, Declan concluded with a call-to-action for government members to acknowledge the practical, social and cultural barriers faced by women in the industry and to “acknowledge the crucial and valuable role that women play in running farms and agri-businesses.”