Study looks at changing role of women in farming

The shift to virtual meetings and events brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic improved accessibility to knowledge exchange, networking and organisations for women working on farms and in agricultural careers across Scotland.

Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland.
Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland.

New research published this week by the James Hutton Institute (JHI) also found that the shift to the virtual world saved time on travel and prevented childcare difficulties.

Additionally the research, which was linked to the Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture initiative, found the pandemic also provided a ‘legitimising’ window of opportunity for greater female involvement in some farming and crofting activities, with women family members often replacing staff who were prevented from travelling due to lockdowns.

However, it was far from all being good news during the pandemic, with the focus group participants involved in the research pointing out that home-schooling children impacted significantly on their ability to do their jobs and maintain productivity levels, adding it kept them from participating in some on-farm activities.

Women also reported safety issues related to caring for children while involved in many farm tasks, while the mental impact of the pandemic on children and young people was raised as a concern.

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“The experience of Covid-19 movement restrictions has shown that there are quite achievable ways to ensure that women can participate in more agricultural industry activities,” said Dr Lee-Ann Sutherland, a research leader at the JHI’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group, and co-author of the report, who added: “It’s important to the vitality of the agricultural sector that these lessons are taken forward into the future.”

The report ‘The Changing Role of Women in Farming, Crofting, and the Agricultural Industry: 2016-2021’ also gathered views and experiences of gender equality and diversity more broadly in Scottish agriculture, building on baseline research undertaken by the University of Newcastle and the JHI, commissioned by the Scottish Government, in 2016.

The aim of this latest project was to understand the impact of the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture Taskforce, and the influence of other initiatives that supported ‘women in agriculture’, on women’s experiences working on farms and in the agricultural industry in Scotland. The project involved the individuals who participated in the 2016 study, including farmers, crofters, and other representatives of the agricultural industry.

Dr Annie McKee, who worked on the follow-up study, said: “The participants were positive about the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture Taskforce, noting that they had resulted in tangible outputs, including successful training programmes and support for women’s practical training in agriculture. However, barriers remain to the recruitment and participation of women to positions of leadership in Scottish agriculture. These barriers include cultural assumptions, attitudes, and arguably unconscious bias.”

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Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon said that the report highlighted the importance of delivering equality of opportunity in making Scottish agriculture a more resilient and economically sustainable industry which would help women realise their potential and support business innovation.

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