‘Women bring bad luck to crops’: fighting stereotypes in agriculture

MEP Carvalhais: “There are no reasons whatsoever why these women shouldn't work as managers or shouldn't be accepted as experts working in the field.” [Shutterstock]

There is an urgent need to fight gender stereotypes in EU agriculture as women’s multilevel skills have a lot to offer in the future of the field, centre-left MEP Isabel Carvalhais said.

Speaking at an event organised by EU farmers and cooperatives union (Copa-Cogeca) yesterday (15 October) in the European Parliament, the socialist MEP illustrated the stereotypes in agriculture citing a personal experience from her father’s farm in Portugal.

Carvalhais said in her family, and in most families with small farms, there has been a tradition that the first crop of the year, the first apple or peach, should be given to the male of the family, the father, for instance.

“When my father passed away a few years ago, I assumed that my 83-year-old mother wanted to be the first one to taste the first crop of the year. However, she denied, saying that it should be my husband because women bring bad luck according to the tradition,” the Portuguese MEP said.

She said these stereotypes are deeply rooted in society and a lot of time will be needed to eradicate them.

Several studies have pointed out the significant role that women’s “multifunctionality” can play in helping the sector advance, especially when it comes to reviving the declining rural areas in the EU and preventing further urbanisation.

According to EU statistics, in 2014, women accounted for about 35% of the total working time spent in agriculture, carrying out 53.8% of part-time work and 30.8% of full-time work.

However, only 30% of farm holdings in the EU are managed by women.

Clara Serrano from Corteva Agriscience said the situation with women in agricultural in Germany was similar to that in Portugal. [Photo by Sarantis Michalopoulos]

Carvalhais confirmed this trend and presented a “paradox”: In Portugal, female presence in agricultural high education stands at around 57%, above the 50% EU average.

But in practice, women are not really in charge, as around 63% of farms in Portugal are managed by men, according to a 2016 study Carhalhais cited.

“The empirical experience suggests that in the agricultural sector, usually, women are not performing the high qualified activities in the farms. They may be actually working as researchers, trainers, but we don’t find women as senior managers of farms,” she said.

“All this educational capital in the agricultural sector seems to get lost or be diluted once we enter the agricultural labour market,” she added.

Explaining the reasons behind this paradox, the Portuguese MEP said family farms, which were to a large extent women-centred, are disappearing. Secondly, she said women traditionally performed low-skill tasks, which are being replaced by machines.

One of the things that should really be prioritised, Carvalhais said, is to fight the burdensome gender stereotypes.

“There are no reasons whatsoever why these women shouldn’t work as managers or shouldn’t be accepted as experts working in the field,” she added.

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.

The challenges

Clara Serrano from Corteva Agriscience presented the results of another study focusing on gender pay gaps in the EU, saying the phenomenon only threatens to grow, with lifelong implications.

She added that only 4.9% of farmers under 35 are women while 40% of women already in the sector are over 65 years old (27.6% for men).

Referring to the survey, Serrano said out of 800 women canvassed in five EU countries, 90% are proud of working in agriculture despite all the hurdles.

In addition, 38% reported earning less than men while the same percentage claimed that gender discrimination is equal or even worse than 10 years ago. 68% of women reported widespread discrimination and 75% that it will get from 10 to 30 years to reach equality.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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