Relevance of gender in the policy area

Agriculture is one of the most widespread activities in the world and has a crucial role in food production, environmental protection, landscape preservation, rural employment and food security. Agriculture is not uniform throughout, there are different elements such as:

  • the scale of farming
  • crop and livestock combinations
  • intensity of farming
  • ways and means of disposal of farm produce
  • the level of farm mechanisation (small-scale farmers/informal small-scale agriculture, commercial farming/plantation agriculture, self-sufficient farming, organic farming etc.).

From a gender point of view, there are significant gaps between women and men. For example, women farm holders have significantly smaller farms than men farm holders. Moreover, the share of female farm holders is particularly high on farms with no clear specialisation in livestock rearing or crop production. Indeed, 71% of EU farms with livestock are run by male farm holders, and only 27% by female farm holders (the remainder belongs to legal persons). Organic farming is practised by around 2% of all EU farm holders, regardless of gender. In 2013, women represented 24% of EU farm holders in organic farming, and they occupied 13% of the EU area devoted to organic farming.

While agriculture is the major food-producing sector, rural development is related to the promotion of the vitality of the countryside and the well-being of rural communities. Rural areas provide food, raw materials, jobs and a wide range of environmental goods and services such as cultural landscapes, biodiversity, carbon storage, water and soils. More than half of the EU’s land area is classified as being predominantly rural (51.3% in 2012), whereas 22.2% of the European population is living in these areas.

Participation of women in employment and economic growth is crucial for reaching the EU 2020 strategy goals, and in this respect agricultural and rural areas could make a contribution. In 2014, in the EU-28, agriculture was the seventh largest employer of women (3.3%). For men, agriculture is slightly more important in terms of providing employment (5.2%). However, these data may be misleading as they do not cover the informal rural economy, in which women are still involved. Women play a key role in rural families, communities and economies, and they are also important as farmers. In addition to paid farm work, women still assume the main share of unpaid responsibilities involved in the running of families and communities.

There is also under-reporting of women’s work, as women tend to classify and report themselves as not in employment, particularly when undertaking unpaid agricultural work. In fact:

Women provide a large proportion of the labour of agricultural production, even though official statistics based on census and survey instruments often underestimate women’s work and its contribution to national wealth. Problems persist in the collection of reliable and comprehensive data on rural women’s work in agriculture and other productive sectors because of: 1) invisibility of women’s work; 2) [the] seasonal and part-time nature of women’s work; and 3) unremunerated family (mostly women and children) labour.

Nevertheless, rural areas are crucial for the attainment of the Europe 2020 headline target of reaching an employment rate of 75% of the population aged 20 – 64. Predominantly rural regions generate 22% of total employment in the EU-28, but the employment rate in these areas is lower than in other types of regions. This is especially the case among women, older people and low-skilled workers. Generally speaking, this is mainly due to the lower level of employment opportunities and the lower level of education among the workforce in rural areas.

Development of entrepreneurship and self-employment in agriculture and rural areas is also crucial for the improvement of women’s employment situation. The contribution of women in the rural economy may be promoted through self-employment and small businesses. According to the European Commission, women can be at the forefront of innovation and diversification in rural areas by developing new activities, production lines and services. For example, women can develop agro-tourism activities, artisan food and drink production, craft enterprises, and telecommunication and caring services. Women often have the added advantage of an awareness and knowledge of local needs, and specific interpersonal and communication skills.

Women are a driving force for the maintenance, conservation and development of rural areas, both in cultural and economic terms. They contribute to the preservation of a rich and diversified cultural heritage and the transmission of traditions. They also represent a considerable proportion of the workforce in agriculture and contribute to the development of the rural sector in the face of constant depopulation. Unfortunately, women in rural areas are also an invisible force as their presence and role are not accurately reflected in statistics. Many of those who are involved in agricultural work do not receive a separate income from their husband or other male members of the household. By assisting their farmer husbands and other self-employed men, they are not entitled to social security in their own right and often do not hold property rights to land or farms. To overcome this latter aspect, gender-sensitive initiatives such as shared-ownership of farms and agricultural enterprises are being implemented in some European countries.

The development of rural areas requires the creation and development of new economic activities in the form of new farms and diversification into non-agricultural activities. This may include the provision of services to agriculture and forestry, and the development of activities related to healthcare, social integration and tourism. Furthermore, the diversification of farmers into non-agricultural activities and the establishment and development of non-agricultural small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in rural areas could be promoted. This measure may also encourage entrepreneurship among women in rural areas.

The advancement of gender equality in agriculture and rural areas faces some major obstacles. For example, the unequal participation of women and men in agriculture and rural development, and the under-representation of women in farm ownership and agricultural decision-making.

Issues of Gender Inequality in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level

EU level

The Commission, the European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) on 26 June 2013, contributing to its design.

International level

Policy cycle in agriculture and rural development

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Education, training and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into agricultural policy. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in agriculture and rural development

Key milestones of the EU agricultural and rural policy

Current policy priorities at EU level

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