Agriculture's future is female
The future of agriculture is female
There’s one thing I should make quite clear to readers from the outset: I personally have been very privileged. I grew up in a country and at a time in which women’s rights were no longer a subject of negotiation. Nevertheless, it was and still is a time in which there is much to be done to ensure that women can contribute to the same degree as men in all areas of public life and hold executive positions. To ensure that it is not them by default who must give up their career or assume an extreme double burden as soon as they start a family. Yet this is also a time in which the position of women in our society can be regarded as highly exemplary - we have had a woman at the head of our government for many years: Dr. Angela Merkel.
Agriculture has many facets: In many countries it can symbolise strenuous manual labour, whilst in others it is a high-tech and digitalized part of the economy. Whilst in some barren and dry regions of the world, agriculture struggles to produce anything from nature’s scarce resources, in other regions of the earth harvests seem to crop up as if by themselves.
Yet despite the fundamental differences in their requirements - such as climatic conditions, types of cultivation and the degree of technology in use - in many ways, agriculture is similar all over the world: Agriculture provides us all with the basis for the food we eat and as such is a conditio sine qua non for our existence. Agriculture is thus not just any sector; it is a sector devoted to life and its essentials.
But who we mean when we speak of “agriculture”? Who are the people behind this term? In many regions of the world the majority of these people are female! It is predominantly women who are feeding the world!
Unfortunately, the contribution they make is not always appreciated to the same extent. Quite on the contrary: In my opinion, we must make efforts to counteract this lack of awareness and appreciation.
Rural women around the world
The 2030 Agenda adopted by the United Nations therefore quite rightly underlines the significance of gender equality. This is not just a goal in itself but also an overarching guiding principle which is laid down in 11 of the 17 SDGs. No country can expect to develop successfully if it does not include the capabilities, knowledge and creativity of half of its society. In economic terms, this is an intolerable waste of resources.
And in terms of how we view and treat each other, discriminating against women in society is the sign of an outdated societal structure that urgently needs renewal. It is the responsibility of all people to ensure these changes take shape in our own societies. This is also why my ministry is working to support women in rural areas and women working in agriculture.
The facts speak for themselves:
The role played by women in agriculture and rural areas is of global importance: Women form the backbone of our rural areas.
According to the World Farmers’ Organization, 43% of people working in agriculture worldwide are women, in some countries up to 70% of the agricultural workforce are women. Women are responsible for 60-80% of global food production.
In many countries, whether industrialised or developing, rural women are also affected by poverty, poor education opportunities and inequality. Women often face meagre prospects of living and thriving in these areas.
Yet it is primarily the younger generations that are fighting for a better life in the country: Young rural women who show great enthusiasm and passion for improving the living conditions in their rural areas will not only ensure that these places will still be viable areas to live in the future. These women are also ensuring that their regions remain attractive and vibrant places. Rural women in Germany
There are women working on nearly every farm in Germany. The latest figures show there are around 341,000 women active in the agricultural sector. But of the 276,000 farm managers in Germany, in the year 2016 just 9% of these were women. According to a survey in which 514 women in agriculture between the ages of 18 and 39 took part, 25% of these women were employed either full-time or part-time on farms. Just 29% of these women were self-employed. The majority - around 40%- provided information that they were working with no contract at all. The survey also showed that women are well qualified, around 68% of those surveyed had completed vocational training courses, 29% had a university education in agricultural studies and 22% had received business training.
90% of the women who responded in the survey were working in family businesses. One third of those surveyed stated that they worked more than 40 hours per week on the farm.
During their working hours, 67% of the women surveyed spent their time looking after the animals, 62% doing office work and 43% in operational management. Far fewer worked on the fields (around 24%), 14% did public relations work and 12% were active in direct sales of agricultural products.
53% of the women stated that they made business decisions together with their partner. Approximately 29% of the women are consulted in decision-making, but their partner has the final say. And around 10% have no influence at all over the fate of the farm on which they live and work. Just 8% said that they alone make the business decisions of the farm.
Allow me to just translate what these figures mean expressed in terms of the daily lives of women in agriculture:
The majority of these women have received some form of agricultural training, over half has a university qualification in agricultural studies or business studies. They primarily work full-time, a large percentage of them works in operational management. What kind of appreciation, remuneration and decision-making power can these women expect? These women are family workers. They only appear in the statistics as the “spouse of the farm owner”. In many cases they do not have a work contract. Their social security depends therefore on their status as a farmer’s spouse. Even though many of the women have operational management duties, they cannot make decisions on their own about the future of the farm.
This paints a rather antiquated picture of farm life. Gender equality doesn’t yet seem to have fully taken hold on many farms. This must change! Agriculture is not just a male domain! It never was and never will be. In fact, many women often work on farms in addition to another job. They run the household, raise the children, care for their elderly parents. In many cases they are also volunteers at clubs and organisations or are active in politics at local government level. They help configure our social cohesion and shape the way we live in the countryside.
Organisations and networks for rural women
These young female farmers have chosen a life in which they must put the needs of others before their own. Their daily lives are considerably different from the lives of the mothers in our cities who often drop off their child at the day-care center and then rush off to the next business meeting or conference. Women on the farm also have their hands full. They no longer simply come to terms with their situation, instead they are actively organising events and meeting, networking with each other and supporting one another. The LandFrauenverband (German Rural Women’s Association) is an example of one of these networks. It is dedicated to the lives of rural women; it addresses issues relevant to rural women and encourages them to become active in its work.
Rural women as entrepreneurs
Starting a business opens new doors for women in rural areas. The LandFrauverband therefore supports an initiative to provide assistance for women in rural areas looking to establish a business and thereby build their own livelihood. This creates prospects for well-educated women to remain in rural areas and consequently improve these rural areas and their infrastructure. Starting a business can also be a step in becoming financially independent. It can be an opportunity to put the equal pay principle into practice. Female employers also act as role models.
Rural women in the political sphere
It is also important to encourage rural women to be active on the political stage. Gender parity in parliament - this is standard we have set ourselves.
Approximately 100 years after the introduction of women’s suffrage, women are still under-represented in German parliaments; this also applies for positions at municipal level. One example of this is the position of the district administrator, who is the highest-ranking official in a given district. Of the 294 elected officials, there are currently 28 women. That is a share of 9.5% . Whether in municipal politics, rural administrative bodies, supervisory boards or on codetermination committees in the self-government structure of social security institutions: The percentage of women in all places and positions has been stagnating for a long time now. The LandFrauenverband has therefore launched a campaign called “Frauen!Wählen” (Vote Women) with the aim of considerably increasing the percentage of women on the administrative boards, boards of management and supervisory boards of the German statutory health, pension and accident insurance companies. Since the decisions made in these committees have a huge impact on the lives of those insured by them. Women must also have a say in these decisions!
Vibrant rural areas create a reason for residents to remain
To ensure that women living in rural areas can actively partake in public life, we must provide reliable child day-care and dependable digital communication infrastructure. These components are intrinsically linked, they are the springboard which will allow women to become involved in public matters in rural areas.
We need people who care, want to shoulder responsibility, to get involved and address the issues that need our attention. We need people who are interested and committed to a cause and who want to share their knowledge. As such, having active players in civil society is just as important as functioning public services and the economic strength of a region. Time and again we have heard about the importance of tri-sector partnerships. We must vest equal attention in all three: the state, market and civil society. It is about time that we introduced policy measures to encourage a strong social community at municipal level to reinforce the liveliness of rural areas.
Volunteer work in rural areas
Volunteering is an important part of life in vibrant villages. Over 30 million citizens in Germany participate in different ways in this type of work- from individual involvement in local activities to volunteer work in clubs, churches, in social work, in the voluntary fire brigade, in political and professional interest groups and in municipal parliaments. The Landfrauen in particular are often active as volunteers. To maintain these structures and expand on these we must support volunteers with full-time employees whose job it is to foster connections between civil society and municipal politics and recognise and value the work of volunteers.
Since only if this cooperation is appreciated will it continue to flourish.
Gender equality as one of objectives for funding of rural areas
Equality between men and women is a fundamentally enshrined right. It is required by EU law that all European funding and support programmes promote gender equality.
It must therefore be our goal to improve the quality of life and working conditions of all women in rural areas. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (ELER) is a key funding instrument in this regard.
Long-term funding programmes have been created from the ELER which serve as an example in this field. These include many funding programmes which have helped provide better infrastructure for women. Only with this kind of approach can we ensure that there is a more equal participation between men and women at all levels of the individual programmes. The purposes of funding programmes in rural areas are manifold: e.g. to increase the percentage of women employed in the sector, to assist in establishing cooperative structures, to run equality campaigns. We want to use different funding measures to improve the infrastructure of women of all ages and for families, to reduce rural depopulation and create incentives for people to return to rural areas.
Study on rural women conducted by my ministry
Politics is supposed to serve the citizens and therefore it cannot disregard these or their needs. One question in particular regularly plays on my mind: What is life really like for female farmers in Germany? What is their daily routine, how are their living and working conditions? Which possibilities do they have for their own further development, how can they educate themselves further, initiate growth processes and generate their own personal successes?
Furthermore: How is the transformation that is taking place in agriculture and society affecting the lives of women in rural areas?
We must search deeper for the answers to these questions. Only then will we know what exactly we are missing. And only then can we find tailor-made solutions which make life in the countryside more attractive and make life easier for rural women.
This is why my ministry is putting over half a million Euro into a study which will collect, record and evaluate all these aspects and initiatives. This will provide us with a scientific basis from which we will know how to better promote and support women in agriculture. It will also sound out new prospects and pave the way for these in the future. This study will present a verifiable framework of figures, data and facts which will help inform me about the necessary political action. Over a period of three years, over 30,000 women in agriculture will answer questions and the interviews with them will be analysed.
This will require a differentiated view of the challenges and burdens they experience. My goal is to increase the visibility of rural women’s commitment to rural areas and to specifically promote the high potential for innovation in this sphere.
For our rural areas are the powerhouses of our country and the women in the countryside are the driving force behind them.