Women rural entrepreneurs deserve greater attention to keep European rural area vibrant

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Lotta Folkesson is Chairwoman of Copa’s Women Committee, and Board Director at LRF (Federation of Swedish Farmers). [Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund]

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

The International Women’s Day is the right opportunity to show the active contribution of all women, from farmland to cities. Now more than ever, rural women and especially women farmers have a key role to play in the development and preservation of vibrant rural areas.

This is why I believe, together with the Women’s Committee of Copa, that it is essential to better highlight rural women’s contribution and support them with the adequate measures at local, national and EU level.

Lotta Folkesson is Chairwoman of Copa’s Women Committee, and Board Director at LRF (Federation of Swedish Farmers).

In the EU, 96% of farms are family run and yet women represent roughly 30% of the total EU farm managers. We known at local level that women face specific obstacles to starting up farming and forest activities, we all have examples of projects that could not come to fruition because of a lack of supports. This is why, we need more assessments and pan European studies on the needs of women living in rural areas to design more targeted policies. Concrete strategies integrated in the national plans linked to agriculture and EU regions are essential to empower rural women who will help to enhance EU’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Challenges ahead for rural women entrepreneurs

Challenges to starting up farming and forestry activities are quiet common for rural women since the access to credit and financing is difficult. This impacts women’s ability to acquire labour-saving and innovative production inputs, for instance. This is why we are calling for better access to credit and financing without which women farmers cannot achieve their full potential in terms of productivity gains. As we are currently discussing the future of the CAP, we hope that future national CAP Strategic plans financed by EAGF and EAFRD will take into account all aspects of women’s activities in agriculture through specific measures on gender equality. In addition, we call for increased synergies between the various policies impacting this objective, including research, social policies and Erasmus+.

The EU programmes of Erasmus+, the European Social Fund, the European Social Fund+ must target education, advisory services and lifelong training adapted to women’s needs. These measures will most definitely contribute to closing the gap in female entrepreneurship and will result in creating innovative agricultural activities in rural areas due to the dual challenge of population growth and the consequences of climate change.

Throughout Europe, public services are moving away from rural areas. For us it is a critical issue as it will impact the structure of rural families and restraint men and women farmers entrepreneurial capacity. Therefore we call for more and better services especially in regards to childcare and elderly care which could be supported through regional development policies and by the European Social Fund.

Women are contributing to the development of social farming but also to further evolution of agricultural models. Rural women are often in the forefront of innovation, developing the concept of multi-functionality and diversification in rural areas by proposing new activities, production lines and services. Therefore, it is essential to give them a fair access to infrastructures like broadband internet which is essential to enhance living standards in rural areas, to avoid isolation, to foster direct selling of rural products and to enable full use of digitalisation in agriculture.

We strongly believe that women in rural areas and women farmers are the backbone of rural communities. Women bring diversity, stability, creativity to rural families and businesses. We make a difference and we want the European Institutions and Member States to support women living in rural areas towards a more sustainable Europe!

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