"Women in a mans world" stories belong to the past, as far as Farmlife is concerned. In the UK opportunities for girls are just about equal to those for boys. But this week we make no bones about highlighting women achievers. Ann Rogers explains why
Yesterday, Feb 29, should have been Women Farmers Day in Britain, a prelude to the European Women Farmers Day in Brussels planned for Mar 21.
Unfortunately, for budgetary and other reasons, COPAs Womens Committee has postponed European Women Farmers Day until "some time during the first half of October 1996." So the UK delegates are spreading activities for the British celebration over a number of weeks rather than one day in order to have the biggest effect with the few resources they can muster.
The aim of both the national and European celebrations is to create awareness of womens contribution to agriculture and horticulture, both within and beyond the industry, and to highlight their role as "citizens, economic actors, professionals and mothers."
Britains delegates, Elizabeth Wain and June Small, are focusing their efforts on finding out more about the status and the needs of the women they represent. They are carrying out a survey* of women in the industry, be they farmers or growers, employees in either industry or the wives of farmers, growers or their employees. They will try to discover their problems, especially with regard to training and social security, in order to get a better idea of the direction their committee work should take.
When responses to the survey have been analysed they plan to hold small seminars at a couple of major agricultural shows to continue the discussion and at the same time to provide information on training opportunities. They also aim to produce a brochure about sources of information for training and financial advice.
Elizabeth is from Eccleshall, Staffs where her husband Malcolm runs an enterprise primarily concerned with dairying but with some beef and cereals too. A mother of three school-age daughters, Elizabeth became a COPA Womens Committee representative in 1989 through her NFU connections. As a former NFU employee, working in the economics department in London, Elizabeth was already familiar with the workings of the committee when the NFU was seeking a nominee. In earlier days the Womens Institute had sent representatives.
The Womens Farm and Garden Association has a long tradition of sending representatives to the committee and its her WFGA hat that June wears when she goes to Brussels. She and her husband Robin are half of a partnership producing 21 varieties of apples in Charlton, Somerset.
June herself is a comparative new girl to the committee with two years experience behind her and both she and Elizabeth agree that it takes quite a while to get established as a committee member. You need to learn how the committee works and who is who before you can become effective, they say.
These days there are only two meetings a year and they are held in Brussels. Occasionally seminars are held in different countries. June recently attended one in Paris concerned with the image of women, and one in Barcelona about the care of the elderly in rural areas.
She was impressed by the Spanish system of day care centres which enabled the old folk to stay at home on their farms. The care of the elderly is an increasingly important issue, she points out, when in the year 2000, it has been estimated, the largest section of the population in Europe will be women over the age of 60.
Elizabeth recalls a meeting in Dublin involving a visit to a recently established open farm which, as it was in a development region, was set up with the help of EU money and where those setting it up had benefited from visits to similar enterprises in the UK. The need to forge links with urban communities and promote farming to industrialised populations is something quite new to many European countries where townsfolk are not so many generations away from the land.
Britain, it transpires, has more in common with the northern European countries than with the southern ones.
"I think the needs are different in that people in south-eastern Europe have not got the basic rights that we take for granted," says Elizabeth. "Our equal opportunity laws date from the 1960s and they are only getting to that point now."
"In some countries a husband may have another job off the farm, leaving his wife to do the farming, but she does not get the recognition," says June whose concern for her fellow Europeans increases with her committee service.
Access is another major difference, says Elizabeth. "A big difference for a lot of our rural women is that they have access to more centres. No one is at an enormous distance from a town as they are in France or Spain or Greece where transport is difficult," she says. "Our education system is more widely spread and our college network is more local than in other countries."
The infrequency of the womens committee meetings makes it difficult for debate to be topical. "I was heartened when CAP reforms were discussed in 1992, we actually had a meeting on the subject and were able to put the womens point of view," says Elizabeth.
Such changes affect women directly, she says. They often bear the brunt of them by doing more farm work and struggling harder to make ends meet.
Both the EU parliament and agricultural commissioner Franz Fischler have taken an interest in women in agriculture recently.
"I should like to be able to say I have brought back lots of things to help women in the UK but to be perfectly honest, apart from the work done earlier on social security and social support, I think the benefit directly to UK women is a bit tenuous," says Elizabeth who looks to the outcome of the survey and the seminars to give her a new challenge.
*If you would like to make your contribution to the survey write for a form, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, to Alison Hamilton, NFU, 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8HL. (0171-331-7290).
European Women Farmers Day has been postponed until October, says Elizabeth Wain, the Womens Committee delegate nominated by the NFU.
June Small: She was nominated by
the Womens Farm and Garden Association.