Women are innovative entrepreneurs in farming, but barriers persist

The first panel of the event "Strong rural women 4 strong rural Europe!" at the European Parliament. From left to right: Chantal Legay, Magdalena Wiegel, Aslihan Tekin, Maria Gabriela Zona, Lotta Folkesson, Laura Bargione [COPA]

This article is part of our special report Is there room for women farmers in the CAP?.

Supporting women farmers requires several types of support, and not only economic, as obstacles to gender equality persist in the sector, farmers said at an event held at the European Parliament on Thursday (7 March).

Women’s Committee of Copa, the EU farmers organisation, set up the conference “Strong rural women 4 strong rural Europe” to highlight women’s contribution to agriculture, ahead of International Women’s Day.

Gender equality must be addressed in rural areas as a long-term project, said socialist MEP Maria Gabriela Zoana who hosted the event together with her centre-right colleague Marijana Petir.

“We should pay more attention to education, facilitating woman to access agricultural training and life-long learning,” the former said.

More has to be done to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector, ensuring that women are not facing social exclusion in rural areas, Petir said.

In a video message Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan gave at the beginning of the conference, he described the entrepreneurial skills of women as ‘absolutely vital’ and also capable of realising the full potential of innovation in rural communities

In an interview with EURACTIV earlier this week, the EU Agriculture boss also hinted that policy tools are already in place when it comes to tackling issues related to women in rural area, but he that member states are not using them.

Hogan urges EU member states to include rural women in their CAP strategies

EU Commissioner for agriculture Phil Hogan has encouraged member states to take advantage of the new Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) flexibility and tackle issues related to rural women.

Copa-Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen described cooperatives as a powerful tool to empower women farmers in the rural economy, agriculture and forestry, ensuring women’s better involvement in all business decisions within the agri-forest value chain.

Barriers persist

During the event, Clara Serrano from Corteva, the agriculture division of DowDuPont,  presented the outcomes of a survey on 800 women in agriculture in 5 EU countries.

One in three of those surveyed reported earning less than men while two in three reported widespread gender discrimination.

Although they mentioned the persistence of certain barriers to equality that are higher than the global average, 90% of respondents said they were proud to work in agriculture.

38% of those questioned said that gender discrimination is equal to or worse than it was 10 years ago and 75% of them believe it will take 10 to 30 years to achieve full equality.

Among the issues to address in order to remove those barriers and achieve gender equality, Serrano mentioned technology and improved access to financing.

Poor access to credit prevents women from entering European farming

The access to credit and financing is one of the most important obstacles women farmers are facing in order to take the risky leap to join Europe’s agricultural sector.

Best practices

Some women farmers took the floor sharing with the audience their personal success stories, but also the hurdles they faced in their working experience.

Polish agricultural entrepreneur Magdalene Wiegel, who received 2018 Innovation Award for Women Farmers, spoke about the central role in family farms for women.

Within the EU, 96% of farms are family run, but only 30% of European farm managers are women.

Half of the population of EU rural areas is composed of women and she stressed that there will not be any future for a rural Europe without strong female farmers.

“And as women, we are strong, but also intuitive,” she said, “We just need a little bit of support sometimes,” she said, mentioning not only funds but also proper working tools.

Italian Laura Bargione spent many years abroad before decided to come back to her region Sicily, where she took over a family farm and local food manufacturing Marisco that today she runs together with her parents.

She is involved in different projects of social farming, taking care of vulnerable and disadvantaged people and helping them to integrate into society.

She presented one of this project, named ‘Il coraggio di amare’ (the courage to love), with which to give an opportunity of seasonal work to migrants from Africa.

“Some of these migrants have chosen to go to school in Italy after joining our project and we have been experiencing a better integration with locals,” she said.

But he reported that developing this kind of project in Italy is still tough, as there is no law on social agriculture.

Is there room for women farmers in the CAP?

Lawmakers in the European Parliament believe that women have a key role to play in helping to revive rural areas. However, discrimination against women in the farming sector is still widespread.

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