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Future of CAP: Where are all the women?

The farmer's wife is a well-known literary trope across many cultures: many of us grew up on variations of the same general image of jolly, flour-covered matriarchs feeding the ravenous mouths of the farmer and his sons working all days in the field.

Yet while farming, like many other professions, continues to be a predominantly male domain, there are a growing number of farms run by women. The most recent data available (from Eurostat, 2013) suggests that on average around 30% of farms across the EU are managed by a woman – data that masks some quite considerable differences between specific countries, however, from just over 5% in the Netherlands to around 47% in Lithuania.

Encouragingly, the share of female farmers is growing, albeit slowly: in 2005, around 27% of EU-28 farms were female-owned, and most of the growth has come from the enlargement of the EU since 2004, with the countries in the east generally tending to have more woman-owned farms than those in the west.

The average farm size for farms managed by women is 6.4 hectares, less than half the 14.4ha for farms managed by men. And in terms of output per holding, women farmers also fare much less well than their male counterparts: just under €12,000 in 2013 compared to nearly €40,000. This reflects the fact that women farmers control far less of the land – 12% - than men – 61% (the remaining 28% of land is held by 'legal entities' such as companies). These variations are much less pronounced in the newer EU countries, where on average women farm around 3.4ha compared to 6ha for men.

Europe's farming sector is dominated by an older population and this is certainly true when it comes to women farmers – indeed the data shows that just 4.9% of farmers under 35 are women, compared to 6.4% for men. Yet at the other end of the scale, the majority of farmers over 65 are in fact women – 40% compared to 27.6% for men.

But while these figures clearly underline that farm managers are still predominantly male, the data also shows that women are extremely active on farms, whether on family-run farms (where nearly 40%) of workers are women or as regular farm labourers (just over 37%).

EU support for women in rural areas
So what can the EU do to help encourage more women to take up farming as a profession?

Most of the measures supported or funded by the EU are aimed at making farming a more attractive profession for both genders, in fact – income support for farmers, additional support for young farmers in particular – while modern farming techniques – helped by satellites and robots – are also making it more attractive for anyone.

And gender mainstreaming is also tackled via rural development programmes funded through the common agricultural policy: EU countries are obliged to analyse the situation of women in rural areas and take the results of these analyses into account when designing their rural development programmes (which go beyond the role of women in farms and touch on a wide range of aspects of rural life).

Source: European Commission
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