If you were asked to picture a farmer in your head, you might have a stereotypical vision of a large, burly man in overalls hauling bales of hay. But why is this image conjured as opposed to a woman caring for and tending to farmland?
Historically, farming in the UK has been a male-dominated industry despite it having a large percentage of female workforce on a global scale, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stating it’s around 43%. But even with government statistics showing that 55% of farm workers in England and Wales are women, and over 80% in Scotland, we still have a perception of farmers as men.
In this article, we’ll look at why female farmers in the UK are overlooked and underappreciated by the industry and the public. We’ll also examine what could be done in the future to increase the visibility of their work and accomplishments.
The gender gap in farm holders
One of the reasons women in farming may be stifled is the disparity in the gender of ‘farm holders’, which can be managers or landowners, throughout the UK. In fact, government research found that 84% of farm holders in England were male while only 16% were female. In Scotland, this figure for women as farm holders is even less at a staggering 7%.
Comparative to the percentage of women working on farms up and down the UK, this shows that there is still so much room for growth and diversity within the industry for ownership and having women in leading roles.
In fact, the industry representatives in Copa are predominantly men at 84%. This means that the board that tackles important issues within farming is missing a huge insight from women, and some problems may never be touched on as a result.
Smashing the stereotypes
When it comes to women in farming, there are many pre-existing stereotypes within the industry and public perception. A key stereotype that permeates the industry is the idea of inheriting a family farm and how it must be the sons of the farmer who do so, while women on the farm should be the silent farmer’s wife.
But with the numbers available, we can see that a large portion of the current agricultural workforce are women and are refusing to fade into the background. This can also be seen with the projects like ‘Farms To Feed Us’, which is a document open to the public where farm holders can showcase what they offer by signing up. This was started by Catherine St Germans, with the intent of moving surplus produce and works to show the entrepreneurship that many women in farming could offer the industry.
Another prevalent stereotype that doesn’t just impact women in agriculture, but women in construction as well. This revolves around the idea that women can’t operate or maintain heavy machinery. In agriculture, this would be the likes of harvesters, tractors, and mowers. In the minds of many, the thought of a woman operating heavy machinery with hydraulic rams might seem unusual, but in this industry it’s commonplace and is part of what they’ve learned while working in real time. To say that women can’t operate heavy machinery is based solely on dated rhetoric without any real basis in fact.
With more of the focus in the industry moving to entrepreneurship leading trends, it may encourage more women to get into farming if they have the insight into how much work women do within agriculture. This is why it’s important to put women in the industry on a pedestal to be observed and appreciated for their work and efforts.