Leading UK academic set to tackle gender imbalances in Irish farming

A leading academic – whose work has been central to debate on the representation women in agriculture – is set to tackle the challenge of gender imbalances in Irish farming.

From land ownership and the profile of women in farming organisations, to the historic role of women on Irish farms, Professor Sally Shortall of Newcastle University, will touch on all these issues when she speaks at the next meeting of the South East Women in Farming (SEWFI) group.

The Duke of Northumberland chair of rural economy and sociologist will address the event at the Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Carlow, on Tuesday, August 7, at 7:30pm.

Shorthall was one of the chief authors of a major report on women in farming and the agriculture sector for the Scottish Government which was published last June.

The report proposed a number of recommendations to address gender imbalances on Scottish farms, including the need to challenge the cultural practice of passing on large farms to sons.

It also highlighted that other models need to be explored.

Succession planning

Succession planning was also found to be poor in the study.

The report advised that more land should be made available for new entrants and that women should be supported to pursue a range of farm diversification opportunities.

Lorna Sixsmith, a committee member of SEWFI group, said: “In the absence of similar research in Ireland, it will be interesting to hear about Sally’s findings and if we consider them to be similar to the Irish situation.

“For example, Scottish women are under-represented among the elected leadership of national level farming organisations even though over one-third of farm operators are women,” she said.

The juggling of many roles – family responsibilities, farm work, housework, off-farm employment and volunteer work – was established to be one major barrier although there are many others.

Sixsmith outlined that other recommendations of the report include: addressing bias in farm organisations; creating a quota system; establishing a talent bank of suitably qualified women; providing suitable and flexible training; and exploring childcare arrangements.

“These recommendations are currently being implemented, so Sally will be able to share updates on the progress,” said Sixsmith.

New Leaders

“While the visibility and profile of women within farming has increased significantly in recent times, it will be most useful to hear more about how the Scottish research is bringing about change.

We really need similar research to be carried out here – but it would be imperative that recommendations are acted upon.

Ann Stenning, chair of the SEWFI group, said: “The research and presentation will provide us with direction in advancing the position of women within farming and creating new leaders.”

Carlow County Development Partnership is providing the SEWFI group with some funding and recently financed a social media training course for some members.

Capacity building

Karl Duffy, social inclusion manager at Carlow County Development Partnership said: “CCDP recognises and supports the importance of ongoing research into the position, and lived experience, of women in farming in Ireland with the aim of tackling gender imbalances that exist.

We need to address the issues and challenges faced. We must encourage empowerment, capacity building and development to ensure that the voice of women in farming is heard locally, regionally and nationally.

Following the presentation, there will be a question and answer session and an open discussion on the similarities and differences between Irish and Scottish farm lives.

Registration for the meeting will take place at 7:15pm. Admission is €8 and light refreshments will be served. All are welcome go along and share their opinions.