International Day of Rural Women: ‘The role of women on farms isn’t even recognised by themselves’

“The role of women on farms isn’t recognised enough by anyone…not even by the women themselves.”

Today (Thursday, October 15) is International Day of Rural Women and, around the globe, the crucial role women play in agriculture and rural and community life is being celebrated.

While national statistics show very few women work in agriculture in Ireland, the work done by women on family farms “is a lot more” than is realised.

Women in agriculture in Ireland

In the recently published Annual Review and Outlook 2020 of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it shows that at a European scale, the number of women in farming has been slowly increasing.

According to the department’s client database, 16% of the registered farmers in 2019 were women (25,400). 55% (13,849) of female farm owners were over 60 in 2019 with 14% of these aged over 80.

The Central Statistics Office Labour Force Survey showed that in 2019, 13% of workers in the primary agriculture, forestry and fishing sector were female.

Teagasc survey

Aisling Molloy, an advisor with Teagasc, undertook a study two years ago on women and their role in agriculture. She said that there was an “obvious lack of recognition of the work that women contribute to farms, particularly by themselves, as 64% of the women who classified themselves as ‘not working on a farm’ carried out at least one farm task”.

“85% of respondents carried out farm tasks, mainly farm accounts and/or form filling, department schemes and making decisions,” Molloy added.

Molloy told AgriLand: “The biggest thing is that the role of women on farms isn’t recognised enough by anybody…even by the women themselves.

Things that they didn’t recognise as important – like paperwork and going to the co-ops – when they don’t recognise that, they don’t recognise their own value.

“At farm events, a lot of the time, the farmer is referred to as ‘he’, and that in itself is a huge issue because obviously women can be farmers too. A lot of the time, unless you refer to them as he and she, it’s sort of masking that straight away.

“Farm ownership and names on herd numbers are low; but the percentage of women working on farms is huge.”

Women do more unpaid work and are still the main carer in the family

Irish Rural Network, the national network which aims to represent the interests of rural communities, told AgriLand that women are at the heart of all communities, which was highlighted in particular during the recent Covid-19 restrictions.

“In general, women do more unpaid work and are still the main carer in the family – whether this is caring for their children or caring for elderly relatives or neighbours,” Louise Lennon of Irish Rural Link said.

“However, on family farms in rural areas, women also help out on farms – again, unpaid and unrecognised by the state.

While national statistics show very few women working in agriculture, the work done by women on family farms is a lot more.

Lennon also said that women living in rural areas “do not have the same employment opportunities available to them as women in urban areas”.

“More women than men in rural areas work in sectors that generally pay minimum wage, such as retail, caring roles and in the tourism and hospitality sector,” she continued.

“A study by the Western Development Commission using Census 2016 figures showed that women account for majority of those employed in the hospitality sector in the western region, reflecting the national picture.

“55.4% of those employed in the sector were females. It is often more difficult for women to commute long distance to access higher-paid employment – due to childcare or need to care for elderly relatives.

“This is even more difficult for one-parent families (which we know the majority are headed by females) living in rural areas.”

According to the network, women living in rural areas are also at more risk than women in urban areas of poverty as they get older. This is compounded by an ageing population, with more women than men living in the country.

Irish Rural Link leads a consortium made up of The Wheel, NUI Galway and Farrelly & Co to deliver the National Rural Network – which has been looking at the “pivotal role of women” in Irish agriculture through a recent video series.

Dr. Maura Farrell from the National Rural Network and NUI Galway said that these women are “highly innovative, resilient and dedicated to farming”.

“It sends a clear message of support for women interested or embarking on a career in agriculture and, in turn, a message to farm owners that women interested in farming are capable and worthy successors of the family farm,” Dr. Farrell added.