Women in farming and the agriculture sector: research report

Findings and recommendations from research into the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.

1 Introduction

Equalities are a core priority for the Scottish Government, and gender equality has been highlighted as a personal aim by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister has particularly identified the need to press forward for women's opportunities to participate in Scottish life and employment, and has outlined the 50:50 by 2020 commitment to ensure better representation for women on public and charitable boards and on the boards of Scotland's major corporations.

Farming, and the agricultural sector as a whole, is an area in which women's contributions are often not recognised and at a leadership level women are significantly under-represented. There is also a 'leaky pipeline' between training and labour market participation with many more women receiving agricultural training and qualifications than choosing to become farmers or otherwise economically active in the agriculture sector. This type of 'pipeline' issue is common in male-dominated professions and sectors, for example it has been studied in relation to science and engineering ( e.g. Goulden et al., 2011) but it has not been investigated in relation to Scottish farming.

There is a recognised lack of evidence on women's involvement in farming. In a 2010 report for the European Parliament, Women working on the farm: How to promote their contribution to the development of agriculture and rural areas in Europe (Shortall, 2010), Shortall notes that investigating the position of women on farms 'is more complicated than it may initially appear' and she stresses that one significant difficulty is the lack of data. Often women provide all the farm labour if their spouse or partner is away from the farm, they feed farm labourers, and frequently provide managerial input and advice. However statistics do not tend to record the full range of farm work undertaken by women, and for this reason women's involvement in farming is systematically under-reported. There are different legal and institutional structures governing land transfer across Europe, although men tend to predominantly inherit.

1.1 Aims and objectives

The aim of this research project is to investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under five headings:

1. Daily Life - to develop an understanding of farm women's daily lives and the roles that women play in farming, both on and off the farm, and in relation to farm businesses.

2. Aspirations - to investigate what women's aspirations are in relation to farming, both amongst women who are farmers or in the agricultural sector, and others who choose off-farm work/careers.

3. Career Paths - to identify the various career paths that women who are involved in farming and the agriculture sector take, and gain an understanding of the reasons underlying women's eventual career outcomes.

4. Leadership - to map women's participation in agricultural organisations, and develop an understanding of the reasons for the low levels of female representation. To identify means of ensuring that women are better represented, and that women's experiences and perspectives are better reflected, in the leadership and public face of the agriculture sector.

5. Comparative analysis with other family businesses - to compare women's experiences in the farming sector in Scotland with women's experiences in family businesses in other sectors, to see whether and how the farming sector stands out.

In addition, during the course of the research other areas of importance emerged. These were:

6. Farm safety - an examination of how women manage child care responsibilities with farming full-time.

7. Training - an examination of women's access to training, continuing professional development and knowledge sharing.

8. Inheritance - an examination of women's access to land and how it affects their ability to enter the industry.

The main objective of this research is to establish a baseline position on women in farming and the agriculture sector, which then will influence future policies to enhance the role of women in these sectors going forward.

The research objectives for this project are to:

  • Investigate the role of women in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland under the five headings outlined above.
  • Undertake interviews, focus groups and surveys as described in Section 2.
  • Identify barriers and/or opportunities for women in in farming and the agriculture sector in Scotland.
  • Produce analysis under the five headings identified above (daily life, aspirations, career paths, leadership, and comparison with other family businesses).
  • Where appropriate, produce recommendations and identify possible future directions for policy and/or specific interventions.

The research was undertaken by a collaboration of researchers at Newcastle University and the James Hutton Institute. The research was overseen by a Scottish Government Contract Manager, and a Research Advisory Group which comprised of Scottish Government policy officers and a range of stakeholder organisations (see Appendix D).


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