1. Background and Introduction
Women have always been an integral part of Scottish agriculture. The industry could not survive without the contributions of women, whether working on farms, crofts and small holdings; supporting their families; or being involved in the wider rural economy. However, research shows that women’s work can be undervalued, downplayed, or simply unseen.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon established the Women in Agriculture Taskforce in summer 2017 in response to the publication of the Scottish Government funded research report, ‘Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector’ (the 2017 research) which can be found on the Scottish Government’s website here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/women-farming-agriculture-sector/
Although a range of governments and charitable bodies across the globe have commissioned research on the position of women in agriculture, this was the first time a government established a Women in Agriculture Taskforce to identify practical solutions to issues facing them.
When launching the Taskforce, the First Minister highlighted the exclusionary nature of the Scottish agricultural industry and the resulting issues of fairness and inequality it presents for women. The First Minister specifically identified the economic limitations to agricultural development resulting from excluding talented and highly motivated women who wish to participate in the industry.
The Taskforce was co-chaired by Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Joyce Campbell, a successful hill farmer from the north of Scotland. The aims of the Taskforce were to develop practical solutions to address the issues identified in the research and to encourage greater gender balance and sustainability in Scottish agriculture. Many of the recommendations and solutions offered in this report are short to medium length in timescale, intended to instigate longer-term cultural change.
The Taskforce met seventeen times between 2017 and 2019 and considered all 27 recommendations presented in the 2017 research as well as other relevant issues. We decided that, given our remit, some short-term and longer-term recommendations should be the focus. We focused on recommendations where we felt we could bring forward real change and practical solutions, that work not only for the present but also into the future.
The 2017 research recommendation of quotas for women in positions of leadership in the industry was debated at length. We agreed that this should not be the starting position to support change within the industry. Quotas could be revisited by the Scottish Government if substantial cultural change does not occur in future years.
The question of women-only training was also extensively debated. Examples of best practice from Canada, Scotland and New Zealand were identified, and many groups and organisations were consulted, including Lantra Scotland, the Scottish Farm Advisory Service, the National Farmers Union for Scotland, the Scottish Crofting Federation, and external consultants.
The Taskforce identified key themes from the 2017 research and one additional theme
(the Equality Charter) on which to make practical recommendations:
- Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture
- Childcare in rural areas
- New entrants to farming
- Health and Safety
We took forward work on each of these themes through sub-groups, drawing on information from stakeholders, statistics, research and other countries. The sub-groups met regularly between Taskforce meetings to explore the issues and develop proposals with practical solutions for consideration by the wider Taskforce.
Taskforce recommendations are primarily based on the themes explored by the sub-groups and are far-reaching. We are deeply committed to achieving a more equal and inclusive agricultural industry for the future, but we are also realistic. The main barriers that women in agriculture face are not legal but cultural. It is a tradition that sons inherit land, that men are elected to positions in farming organisations, and that in-life agricultural training mostly reaches men. Cultural change takes decades therefore barriers need to be persistently chipped away and challenged.
We are proud that we have encouraged and supported positive change within the industry.
Since the research was commissioned in 2016, more women in agriculture groups, events and training opportunities have occurred in various parts of Scotland. Consequently, more women are engaging in available opportunities and the role of women within the industry is being more actively discussed.
Our recommendations support the Scottish agricultural industry to become stronger. By ‘stronger’ we mean an industry that is more inclusive, with fairer representation, which as a result is more economically resilient and more productive. It is our view that more equal partnerships and acknowledged sharing of responsibilities will support improved physical and mental health for families, informed decisions by agricultural organisations and a more progressive industry.
We want the best for Scottish agriculture and our recommendations will help to achieve that. We want to make women’s position in the industry stronger, and we want to change cultural behaviours that exclude them. Further information about the Taskforce is available online at: https://www.gov.scot/groups/women-in-agriculture-taskforce/