Call for changes to aid fe­male farm­ers

ONE-THIRD of farm­ers are women, but they are still be­ing held back from top jobs in agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing the NFUS, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port,

The Oban Times - - Farming - writes Sandy Neil.

Women in Farm­ing and Agri­cul­tural Sec­tor, pro­duced by New­cas­tle Uni­ver­sity and James Hut­ton In­sti­tute, and com­mis­sioned by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, is the first ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion into is­sues fac­ing women in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor in Scot­land.

It found women play a ma­jor role in Scot­tish agri­cul­ture, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the full range of farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, but that they face far more bar­ri­ers to busi­ness in­volve­ment and lead­er­ship than women in other fam­ily busi­nesses.

The sin­gle big­gest bar­rier to women’s en­try into agri­cul­ture, the re­port ar­gued, is the cul­tural prac­tice of pass­ing on large farms in­tact to one son. It rec­om­mends this cus­tom needs to be chal­lenged and other mod­els ex­plored: in the rest of Europe, for ex­am­ple, it is not pos­si­ble to dis­in­herit other chil­dren. In the UK, there is no le­gal re­stric­tion against mul­ti­ple in­her­i­tance or be­quests to daugh­ters.

It also found suc­ces­sion plan­ning is poor and fam­i­lies are re­luc­tant to dis­cuss it to­gether, rec­om­mend­ing that pro­fes­sional ad­vice should be of­fered to all farm fam­i­lies.

Lack of time was also found to be a ma­jor bar­rier to advancing women’s roles on farms and in farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, and to ac­cess train­ing.

The study rec­om­mended prac­ti­cal, hands- on train­ing pro­grammes be made ac­ces­si­ble to women through flex­i­ble sched­ul­ing, child­care avail­abil­ity and on­line com­po­nents.

It ar­gued women are ‘ very un­der-rep­re­sented’ among the elected lead­er­ship of na­tion­al­level farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Al­though more than onethird of farm op­er­a­tors are women, the NFUS has no women among its na­tional of­fice-hold­ers, re­gional board chair­men or com­mit­tee chair­men. Women have more pro­por­tion­ate elected rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Scot­tish Croft­ing Fed­er­a­tion, how­ever, where three out of nine board mem­bers are fe­male.

Ap­prox­i­mately 18 per cent of main sur­vey re­spon­dents iden­ti­fied ‘not wel­come by ex­ist­ing male lead­ers’ as a bar­rier to their par­tic­i­pa­tion in lead­er­ship of farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions. The re­port rec­om­mended that con­scious and un­con­scious bias needs to be ad­dressed in farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, for ex­am­ple by in­tro­duc­ing a 30 per cent quota sys­tem for farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion boards and com­mit­tees, and es­tab­lish­ing a ‘tal­ent bank’ of suit­ably qual­i­fied women for farm­ing po­si­tions.

En­abling new en­trants to es­tab­lish farms also en­ables more egal­i­tar­ian gen­der re­la­tions, it re­ported: when men and women en­ter agri­cul­ture to­gether, through buy­ing or rent­ing to­gether at the out­set, more equal gen­der re­la­tions ex­ist. It ad­vised more land should be made avail­able for new en­trants, for ex­am­ple on Crown Es­tate Scot­land land, from large es­tates, and through a ‘match­ing ser­vice’ with older farm­ers. The prac­tice of only hav­ing one named tenant on a croft should be re­vis­ited to crit­i­cally eval­u­ate the gen­der im­pli­ca­tions.

A new group to en­sure women are bet­ter rep­re­sented in farm­ing was sub­se­quently an­nounced by the First Min­is­ter, Ni­cola Stur­geon MSP, at the Royal High­land Show. ‘ This re­port is a wel­come in­sight into Scot­land’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor,’ Ms Stur­geon said.

‘ While the re­port recog­nises the hugely valu­able role that women play in our farm­ing sec­tor, it also high­lights some sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges that are hold­ing women back from play­ing an equal and eq­ui­table role in agri­cul­ture. And th­ese need to be ad­dressed.

‘That is why I am de­lighted to an­nounce this task­force to look in depth at the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions to en­sure the po­ten­tial of women in farm­ing is re­alised to bet­ter rep­re­sent the for­ward-fac­ing, 21st- cen­tury Scot­land in which we live.’

NFU Scot­land pres­i­dent An­drew McCor­nick com­mented: ‘This re­port from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment shows that there are bar­ri­ers that stop some women tak­ing on high pro­file roles in our in­dus­try, and this is some­thing that both the in­dus­try and NFU Scot­land want to ad­dress.

‘This au­tumn we will be host­ing a num­ber of events, aimed at women in agri­cul­ture, across Scot­land, which will be the next step in this process for us.’

Gilly Dixon-Spain and her hus­band Roger farm on the isle of Lis­more.

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