1. The title which I was given for this paper presented me with a difficult challenge. How should I address such a broad and complex topic in a relatively short paper? Two issues immediately arose. Firstly, given the very considerable diversity in rural structures across Europe and the way in which rural is defined and understood, is it really plausible to talk of rural Europe in any meaningful way? And secondly, what do we mean by the terms rural women and rural areas? I will deal with the first of these by attempting to focus on the common elements of rural womens experiences. Even though European rural women live out their lives in very different rural structures and local political, institutional, and material conditions from east to west and north to south, there are many common strands in their predicament and in the issues that affect them. The past decade has also been one of some achievement and progress for rural women which I will also highlight.
2. In relation to the second issue, while recognising that individual countries will have different conventions for defining the term rural, I am taking the term rural women to mean all women who live in rural areas comprising open countryside and small settlements. Clearly, rural women are not in any sense a homogenous group, even in relation to their occupational activity. Although agriculture remains a key economic activity in most of Europes rural regions, many rural women are not on farms but are involved in other aspects of rural life, both paid and unpaid, which contribute to the rural economy. Moreover, rural women experience many forms of gender inequality which are independent of where they live. Despite these considerations, there are at least four reasons for considering rural women as a separate category. Firstly, rural residence in itself creates particular problems of access to resources, services, paid work, training and transport for women. Secondly, many rural women are living and working on farms and experience particular difficulties associated with the occupation of farming. Thirdly, the promotion of rural and local development as a strategy for sustaining and revitalising rural communities gives rise to particular issues for women. Fourthly, rural culture and tradition embodies certain beliefs, values and attitudes about womens place in society which are often reinforced by custom and law.
3. In this paper then, I look at some of the key aspects of rural womens involvement in rural life and how their situation is changing. While the focus of the paper is broadly European, and I try to highlight commonalties rather than differences, I draw on examples from my own country, Ireland, and from others where necessary, to illustrate particular points. I then go on to focus more specifically on womens involvement in decision-making, by discussing the issues involved and how they might be addressed.
4. Before turning to the specific issues which concern women in rural life, it is important to set out briefly some of the broad macro-forces which have impacted on rural economies over the past decade or so and which provide the context in which rural women face the challenges of the next decade. While the process of rural restructuring varies widely in different political and regulatory contexts, recent years have seen very significant changes in the rural areas of Europe. One of the key forces has been the impact of globalisation associated with the internationalisation of industrial production and capital through the rise of multi-national corporations, the expansion of international producer services, developments in information technology and telecommunications and liberalisation of trade and markets. At the local level such trends have led to the restructuring of production in agriculture and agribusiness, the growth of the service sector and increased emphasis on high technology industry. This has been associated with the creation of unprecedented work and employment opportunities for women (such as the possibility of using new information technology to engage in home-based paid work), as well as facing them with the challenge of having to accommodate new and different work roles.
5. These changes have been accompanied by population shifts associated with low or declining incomes in farming and high unemployment and underemployment in the rural economy. The resulting migration patterns have led to greater competition for rural space in some places and increased impoverishment or marginalisation in others. These latter areas are usually those remote from centres of population where historical patterns of decline in population and employment opportunities are accentuated by more recent trends. In some European states economic recession and cutbacks or privatisation of public services have further compounded this process of marginalisation and rural decline. Rural women in these areas face particular problems of poverty and social exclusion often associated with geographical remoteness and poor infrastructure. Their daughters, unwilling to replicate the conditions of their mothers lives, migrate in increasing numbers.
6. In the so-called transition economies in central and eastern Europe (CEE), rural restructuring including the privatisation of agriculture has led to high unemployment and displacement for rural women. Privatisation has led to the breakdown of the social and cultural infrastructure which provided services such as child-care, health and maternity benefits, as well as cultural and recreational facilities, under the old regimes. It has often resulted in a loss of earning capacity for women and lessened their personal autonomy as they may no longer have an income of their own. Access to quality health, education and a range of basic services may be available only to those who can afford to pay western prices and therefore well beyond the reach of most rural women. Even the creation of new income-generating projects which may open up opportunities can also increase the burdens on women. On the positive side, some fortunate rural women in CEE countries have had unprecedented opportunities for contact, travel and work with counterparts elsewhere and to become part of various networks. Moreover, the restructuring of the entire agri-institutional structure (sometimes in the context of preparation for accession to the EU) provides an opportunity for gender and equality issues to be incorporated in new policy measures and in emerging institutional structures.
7. Within the European Union over the past decade, the major changes that have impacted on rural economies have been associated with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the move to a single European market. CAP Reform has involved a shift in emphasis from price support for agricultural commodities to one of stabilising or reducing output from agriculture. This has led to support for environmental objectives, farm diversification and rural development. The need to curb farm output has translated into support for farm families who seek ways of supplementing their incomes through the development of alternative or complimentary farm enterprises. Farm diversification (such as agri-tourism or on-farm food processing) often involves building on and commoditising the skills of women in catering, home management or food production. At the same time, issues of environmental sustainability, landscape protection and consumer concerns about food safety have become more prominent and are often most convincingly articulated by women. The rural environment has itself become a consumption good to which Europes urban residents look increasingly as a source of recreation rather than food.
8. The move to a single European market (i.e. the EU) gave rise to a need to compensate more peripheral economies for any associated adverse effects. This has led to substantial increases in the scale of the Structural Funds [ The Structural Funds are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Guidance Section of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). Together these funds account for over one-third of the EUs annual budget. ] and in how they are targeted. In the more disadvantaged rural regions of the EU, local development based on activities such as tourism and craft development, community enterprises and small businesses is being encouraged and supported by Structural Fund expenditure. The approach to development being promoted has involved a shift in orientation from so-called top-down models of development, where programmes and plans are initiated at central level and imposed on local economies, to bottom-up approaches where local initiatives are being encouraged and supported. In the EU the concept of partnership, involving a coming together of the public, private and community sectors at local level has given concrete expression to this bottom-up approach. Support for locally-based development through the Structural Funds has been unprecedented, and is supplemented by more directly targeted EU Initiatives such as LEADER [ Liaison entre actions de développement de léconomie rurale] for rural development and New Opportunities for Women (NOW). In some member states, notably Ireland, the shape and direction of EU development policy has had a major impact on national policies and programmes. Recent national plans incorporating EU Structural Fund expenditure have recognised and supported locally-based rural development initiatives, incorporating principles of community development, partnership and participation.
9. These trends then provide the broad context in which rural Europe faces the next century. In the EU, further CAP reform and reorganization of the Structural Funds will take place in 1999 and in the framework of the Agenda 2000 proposals. Enlargement of the EU through the progressive accession of the CEE candidate countries will provide major challenges and opportunities for existing member states and prospective members. Whatever regulatory regime for agricultural and rural development emerges will undoubtedly provoke major adjustments of the order witnessed over the past decade or so.
10. In looking at the challenges facing rural women in the next decade I think it is appropriate that we begin with farm women. Farming remains the mainstay of most rural areas in Europe and rural culture throughout Europe continues to be very much dominated by the behavioural norms and values associated with farm life. The family farm is the typical production unit in northern, western, and much of southern Europe and now in central and eastern Europe privatisation is bringing about a revival of family farming.
11. Barely two decades ago we knew virtually nothing about the farm women of Europe. Although clearly major contributors to farm production and essential to farm continuity, they were hidden in the shadows of the family farm and largely discounted and ignored in accounts of European agriculture. Even today, we have no real comparable data on farm women across Europe. This is largely due to statistical conventions which make women themselves and their work marginal and invisible. Firstly, unless women are engaged in paid work, their work is not usually considered as economic activity and is therefore ignored. As the 1995 Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pointed out, the practice in official statistics of restricting the definition of economic activity to market work means that much of what women do on farms, in the household and in the family is unrecognised and unrewarded. Secondly, the definition of farm work is largely tautological and mostly confined to the work typically carried out by men such as manual work and the more visible managerial tasks. The many other jobs associated with the farm business, which women carry out, are often not considered as farm work and thus relegated to the same unrecorded status as caring and housework.
12. Thus, there are no accurate official statistics regarding womens involvement in farming across Europe either in terms of the numbers involved or their contribution to the agricultural economy. Indeed, it is remarkable, and indicative of their status, that in the vast array of data on European agriculture, we have far more information on animals and crops that on farm women.
13. Fortunately, in the past few decades social scientists, no doubt influenced by the attention being given to womens involvement in other sectors, have turned their attention to farm women. Many studies have concentrated on documenting the gender division of labour on family farms, attempting to fill the gaps left by official statistics. This has usually meant confining the scope of the research to documenting womens involvement in farm work (e.g. Gasson, 1989; Keating and Little, 1994; Alston, 1995), while very little attention has been paid to farm womens caring and domestic work. In England, Gasson (1992) has shown that most farm wives are involved in the farm business and that their work input is very significant, particularly on small and medium-sized holdings where there is no hired labour. Similar kinds of involvement have been found in France (Berlan Darque, 1988), Spain (Garcia-Ramon and Canoves, 1988) and Switzerland (Rossier, 1993) where farm women are involved particularly in the more labour-intensive systems such as dairying. Many wives are responsible for farm book-keeping and accounts and the administrative aspects of the farm operation. Modern farming can be a complex business, requiring considerable financial management and business skills. Women frequently take on this administrative role, in many cases because they have more formal education than their husbands or had acquired the necessary skills in a pre-marriage occupation.
14. While there is much variation across Europe, the common experience is of farm womens very substantial involvement in farm work but relatively little ownership of land. My own research on farm women in Ireland revealed only a minority of farms in joint ownership (OHara, 1998). An earlier study of some six thousand farm households across twenty areas in the EU showed that forty nine percent of farm wives were working regularly on the farm. Only thirteen percent of farm operators in the formal, legal sense were women, and the vast majority of these were actively running their farms. The participation of farm wives in off-farm work was related to their proximity to buoyant labour markets with lower participation rates in the poorer areas of the EU (Bell et al., 1990).
15. Other studies have focused on changing gender roles associated with agricultural modernisation and the increase in pluriactivity among farm families (Blanc and MacKinnon, 1990; Repassy, 1991; Symes, 1991; Gasson and Winter, 1992). This and other research have revealed the diversity of responses and situations across Europe. For instance, it has been suggested that part-time farming has led to the feminisation of agricultural production in Germany, as farm wives take over more and more of the farm chores when husbands take off-farm employment (Pfeffer, 1989). DeVries (1990), on the other hand, argues that in the Netherlands this has not increased the farm workload of women. Almas and Haugen (1988) contend that in Norway farming has become masculinised as mechanisation has reduced the need for womens labour, and employment opportunities for women in rural areas have allowed them to take up off-farm work. Stratigaki (1988) found that in Crete, commercialisation of agriculture has further confined women to the domestic sphere. Rossier (1993), in Switzerland, discovered that farm mechanisation did not lessen womens workload but the nature of the workload changed as women took on tasks formerly reserved for men.
16. Whatever the different regional adjustments, the consensus that emerges from these studies of farming women is that farming as a social form is characterised by unequal gender relations which privilege men over women. At the most fundamental level the patrilineal system of farm inheritance, common in most European countries, determines that the majority of farm women enter farming, not through becoming farmers through a vocational path, but by marriage to a farmer. This means that they frequently do not have any stake in the farm business, nor in some cases in the family home. Preference for male over female heirs means that most farm daughters are effectively excluded from the occupation of 'farmer'. Male monopolisation of the occupation of farmer also frequently casts farm women in the role of assistants to their husbands who are perceived as 'the farmer'. They may be working on the farm and contribute significantly to production, but have no separate income of their own and no independent status in social security or tax regimes.
17. Representatives of farm women in Europe have been pointing out these inequalities and their consequences since the 1970s. They have consistently called for recognition of farm womens work, professional status, equal rights in social security and taxation regimes and access to replacement services [ Replacement services provide temporary workers on farms as substitutes when the regular workers are absent due to holidays, sickness, attendance at training courses, meetings etc. These services are most commonly used on dairy farms where milking must be undertaken daily.] . But so little progress has been made that official reports which have addressed the status of farm and rural women from a policy perspective in the 1990s have had to point to the continuing dearth of information on farm women, and on the relationships between the structures of family farming and farm womens subordinate status (for Ireland see Second Commission on the Status of Women, 1993; for Europe see Braithwaite, 1994; European Parliament, 1994).
18. However, farm women in Europe are not a homogenous group and the challenges facing them vary, inter alia, with the nature of their involvement in the family farm.
19. Data from various studies allow us to identify at least four broad categories of women on family farms in Europe viz. working farm wives, women farmers, farm homemakers and farm women in paid work (Gasson, 1992; Bock, 1994; OHara; 1994; 1998). Clearly the incidence of these categories in any particular rural context is variable and will depend on, inter alia, the intersection of farming systems, local cultures, ideologies of family and local labour market conditions.
20. Working Farm Wives are involved in working on the family farm on a regular basis. They are involved in both manual and non-manual work, generally as an assistant to their husbands, but with varying degrees of autonomy ranging from a relatively equal partnership through responsibility for a particular enterprise, to a subordinate position of helper. Their involvement in farm tasks and decision-making varies with the working relationship, the nature of the farm business, the farming system, their domestic and childcare responsibilities and whether their husband is engaged in off-farm work.
21. This category is the most typical among European farm women. Their greatest challenge is the search for professional status and identity, equal treatment in relation to tax and social security, and access to vocational training. Even where there are no legal barriers to equality, the de facto situation for the many working farm wives is one of subordination to the male farmer. Most have no income of their own and may have limited access to family resources. Many European farm women are responding to this situation by abandoning active involvement in farming altogether. Increasingly, farm wives are remaining in off-farm paid work after they marry as they are no longer content to give up the income, rights and benefits of employment for an uncertain and subordinate status on farms. The collision between the idea of the modern independent woman and the dependent, overburdened farm wife means that many young women avoid marriage to farmers. They have adopted ideologies of the modern woman and are rejecting farm, and/or rural life unless it can offer them the potential for self-fulfilment and a decent standard of living
22. The survival of family farming as a way of life, therefore, will depend on whether farm wives concerns can be effectively addressed. However, even equality legislation does not immediately change their status. The experience following the introduction of legislation giving girls equal rights of succession in Norway showed that custom and practice are at least as important in shaping parents and childrens aspirations (Haugen, 1994).
23. Women Farmers are a minority of all farm women. They are farming in their own right, either because they are the widows of male farmers, have inherited a farm, or have deliberately chosen to enter farming as a career which, among younger women, involves becoming a professional farmer through availing of appropriate technical training. Women farmers are, in effect, managers of the farm operation (or a distinct part of it), with full control over decisions, and sole or joint ownership of land and assets. Haugen (1998) has recently shown how young Norwegian women are constructing their work identity in agriculture as professional farmers. They have selected farming as an occupation and seek recognition and respect on the basis of their professional competence. However, this requires challenging prejudices and gendered expectations as to what is appropriate for women and requires them to prove that they are as capable as men while balancing their role as farmers with domestic work and care obligations.
24. Farm Homemakers are also a minority and are primarily involved in domestic work. They are generally quite removed from active participation in the farm, although they are available in emergencies. Their predicament is the same as that of homeworkers everywhere hidden, unrecorded, unpaid and dependent workers, without public status.
25. Farm Women in Paid Work are generally involved in paid employment off the farm but a minority are engaged in para-agricultural work or run an on-farm business such as an agri-tourist or craft enterprise. They usually are not very involved in working in the farm business but their income may be crucial for its survival. Their decision to take up paid work may also be associated with disillusionment with their subordinate position in family farming and represent a search for financial independence. In Ireland I have found that one of the most important sources of farm wives empowerment is involvement in non-farm work and their ownership of the personal income associated with it.
26. In addition to their work input to the farm or their other paid work, farm women usually have responsibility for domestic and caring work. This division of labour is reinforced by ideologies and cultural traditions which legitimise what is regarded as a natural and functional division of labour, whereby farming men do not generally get involved in domestic work. It means that on many family farms women carry a double burden of farm and household work and, in situations where the level of household technology is low, they have an enormous workload.
27. However, it is not only in the private world of the farm family that women are subordinate; the public world of agriculture and rural development is also controlled by men. Throughout Europe women are conspicuously absent from (or marginalised in) farming organizations, agri-support services, agricultural co-operatives, the farming media and organizational structures associated with initiatives to promote rural development. Before turning to these issues I wish to look at some of the challenges facing women in the rural economy.
28. Aside from their involvement in farming, women can become active in the rural economy in two ways - through formal employment, depending on local labour market conditions, or through using their skills and resources to develop income-generating activities in the form of businesses, community enterprises, self-employment, co-operatives etc.
29. Womens prospects for formal employment vary greatly, depending on local conditions. In the EU, women represent 41 per cent of the working population and growth in female employment during the past decade has been substantial, while male employment has been static or declining. The increase has come primarily in the expanding service sector and women workers remain concentrated in a few areas such as domestic services, health and education professions characterised by caring, nurturing and supportive roles. Women are however more vulnerable to unemployment, and in most EU member states female unemployment rates are higher than the male rates.
30. In the rural areas of Europe, jobs for women, particularly within commuting distance of their homes, are relatively scarce. Many of the jobs which do exist are low-skill, part-time, poorly paid and insecure. In many rural areas the economic base remains quite narrow and much of the future growth is expected to come from tourism and leisure enterprises and SMEs in the food sector. Unemployment and underemployment levels are high among rural women, particularly in the CEE countries. Nevertheless, the decreasing importance of geographical location as a limiting factor for industrial establishment has meant that rural areas are again being considered as suitable sites for investment, particularly in the information technology (IT) sector. In Ireland, for instance, enterprises using sophisticated IT are operating successfully in relatively remote rural areas. The degree to which women will benefit from whatever employment opportunities are created will depend to a significant extent on industrial investment and labour market policies which take account of womens employment needs.
31. Increasingly, women are coming to regard establishing a business as the best solution to the problem of finding paid work and combining it with other responsibilities. The number of women across Europe who have started their own businesses has increased markedly over the past decade. In a number of EU member states, women have created more than a quarter of new businesses and around 30 per cent of SMEs are headed by women. Rural women are very involved in agri-tourism and other farm-based businesses, crafts and food enterprises and caring services. These enterprises often capitalise on womens skills in the domestic or informal context (effectively commercialising womens expertise in food preparation, caring and household management) and on their unused vocational qualifications and skills. Rural women are also proving to be more flexible workers, they have the ability to combine several tasks simultaneously, have a capacity for hard work and an awareness and knowledge of local needs which can be translated into business ventures (Braithwaite, 1994).
32. The EU Initiative Employment NOW (New Opportunities for Women) focuses on improving womens labour market participation, reducing unemployment and on improving the position of those already in the workforce. NOW has facilitated the creation of specific programmes targeted at encouraging women entrepreneurs in the EU member states. In the first phase of the current NOW programme 1995-1997, 44 per cent of projects were aimed at enterprise creation and self-employment. Projects typically combined training with activities such as market research, drawing up business plans and acquiring expertise in specific sectors. In Ireland five of the projects in the current phase of NOW (1997-99) are located in rural areas. These are specifically focused on assisting women to get involved in enterprise or to consolidate and expand their existing businesses.
33. An example from Spain is the Aalta Artesania NOW Project which helped women set up their own businesses in a rural area of Andalucia where women have traditionally helped to harvest olives. Such work is available for only a short season after which women return to household work. Younger women were leaving the locality to escape this routine. Five local development agents and the womens associations worked together to develop ideas for entrepreneurial activity and to support project start-ups. As a result, 78 women have launched ideas for 58 businesses in areas as diverse as rural tourism, woodwork, recycling, catering and textiles.
34. There are a number of issues which consistently appear in accounts of rural womens predicament throughout Europe (see Braithwaite, 1994; European Parliament, 1994; FAO, 1996). Problems of physical isolation and distance from services, facilities and other infrastructure are particularly acute especially for those living in open countryside. When isolation is combined with the task of caring for children, people with disabilities or older people, the burdens on women are considerable.
35. One of the key factors in empowering women and enabling them to avail of whatever employment opportunities become available is access to education and training. Rural women often have low levels of education and few marketable skills and their confidence and self-esteem may be depleted by years of working in the home. 'Pre-training' courses in personal development, assertiveness training and basic skills have been particularly effective in allowing women to discover their own strengths and abilities in a supportive environment, before moving on to more vocationally oriented training programmes. Continuing education and training courses are often the genesis of networks of mutual support and practical action whereby women eventually set up small businesses, or co-operative enterprises, or become involved in the social economy. Indeed, the demand for training is confirmed by the experience from the NOW programme across Europe where training is the primary focus of projects. NOW projects are challenging traditional approaches to education, training and support for women and devising innovative courses and methods specifically tailored to their needs (Employment NOW Initiative, 1997). Training is also frequently an important prerequisite to involvement and effective participation of women in decision-making structures.
36. A further constraint is access to transportation. Non-availability of public transport or service cutbacks in recent years results in women who do not have access to a car being severely curtailed in availing of many services and facilities. Their participation in community life is also restricted. For instance, it is difficult to attend meetings of farmers' organizations, co-operatives, rural development groups or other local activities if access to transportation is limited. The centralising tendencies associated with rural restructuring, involving cutbacks in public expenditure and rationalisation of services, such as hospitals, have the effect of making such facilities less accessible to residents of more peripheral rural areas. Women must often travel long distances for ante and post-natal care, cancer screening, family planning, psychological services and other medical needs. Childcare services such as crèches (day nurseries) and play groups are virtually non-existent in rural areas throughout the Community (EC Childcare Network, 1990). Relief and care services are not widely available. This further restricts farm women's access to vocational training and to off-farm work, in the event that these are available within reasonable distance.
37. Rural women also face formidable constraints related to rural culture and perceptions about womens roles in society. Rural cultures in many parts of Europe may no longer be dominated by farming, but they are often very much influenced by the more traditional behavioural norms and values associated with farm life which assign women to the home and men to the public arena as described above. These attitudes may be prevalent in funding and training institutions which are themselves male dominated. For women the challenge of going against the grain of well-established gender roles in rural society can be quite considerable and requires much self-confidence, self-belief and support.
38. Those who wish to become entrepreneurs, for instance, have few role models, and evidence from the NOW projects show that they typically lack experience and contacts and need information, support and confidence. Women who manage to shake off the constraints of culture and custom and attempt to start a business may find that they are in effect competing with an existing family business. On farms, the development of the farm enterprise may get investment priority to the extent that in some cases the development of an agri-tourism enterprise, for instance, may be resisted by spouses or other family members. Women who do not have legal entitlement to any of the family assets may find it difficult to get access to loans or may have to take out loans in their husbands names. In these circumstances they may not be taken seriously by financial or grant-giving institutions who themselves reflect gender biased attitudes to women. Support services are not always attuned to the ideas and capabilities of women. In Northern Ireland, for example, a successful private business initiated by three women, which combines tele-working and childcare, found it difficult to obtain start-up funding from development agencies. Its founders attribute agency scepticism to the assumption that such an innovative project run by women could not be successful.
39. I have already mentioned the current emphasis on bottom-up strategies, partnerships and locally-based rural development in the EU. Rural women have always played a central, although largely unheralded, role in local economies and in local development activity, particularly in their contribution to a range of voluntary and community organizations. The voluntary sector across Europe is hugely dependent on the commitment and work of women. They are often the mainstay of the voluntary social services, community development projects and community resource centres.
40. As discussed above, the problem of access to care facilities is one of the most fundamental barriers to womens involvement in local economies. The virtual absence of childcare services and daycare facilities for older people and people with disabilities in rural areas, means that that women carers access to paid work, to training and to involvement in local development, can be severely restricted. Some rural women have managed to turn this problem into a way of creating employment opportunities by providing caring services on a commercial basis. These initiatives are in the vanguard of new models of what is nowadays referred to as the social economy [ The social economy is neither public nor private and combines social and economic goals. Most social economy enterprises are in the service sector and are assisted to various degrees by public subsidies or contractual arrangements with the public sector. The social economy is sometimes referred to as the third sector.] . They often combine income generation, employment, improvement of social life, service provision, environmental protection, heritage and cultural activities in new and innovative ways.
41. For instance, in Germany in the Vogelsberg region of Hessen, a partnership project has trained women to become bus drivers, thus combining occupational opportunities for women with the provision of transport in rural areas. In many parts of Europe women are forming co-operatives to provide childcare, eldercare and other local services. However, many such initiatives still rely to a very considerable extent on womens voluntary work. In order to illustrate the various ways in which women have become involved in the social economy, I have included three short examples below.
42. Tulsk parish includes three villages in the west of Ireland with a total population of approximately 1,700. Tulsk Parish Services (TPS) was established in 1994 in order to address local problems of exclusion and isolation through the development of sustainable employment and training opportunities, especially for women, and the provision of services and facilities that are accessible and flexible, particularly for older people and young families. Having set up a voluntary management committee, TPS received start-up funding from a local development programme and recruited a co-ordinator and a group of fifteen women to provide the service.
43. Home care and transport were the services initially offered by TPS. The home-care service provides care services for the elderly living alone, or those whose families are absent during the day, and for mothers with young children. The range of services offered includes meal provision and delivery, respite care and night care for the ill, hairdressing, childminding, baby-sitting and home help of all kinds.
44. Services are provided on demand and, in the first year, were provided to 75 local people, mainly in their own homes. During this time members of TPS attended various training courses to enhance their skills and professionalism. These included courses in social care and community development by distance learning, catering and hospitality, basic nursing care and computer skills along with personal and community development. The core group of social care workers operated on a part-time/per hour basis and the co-ordinator worked on an hourly basis. The charge to the customer pays for the wages of the service provider while other costs (co-ordinator, training, administration, premises etc.) are met through grants.
45. In 1996 TPS was awarded funding from the European Union Social Fund for training for older women (aged 40+) wishing to enter/re-enter the workforce and for the establishment of a Resource Centre incorporating a kitchen, laundry, meeting rooms, office and creche from which an expanded social care service could be operated. A project manager was appointed in February 1997. Additional women were recruited and there are now fourteen involved in a training and work experience programme.
46. In 1997 a marketing, and operations strategy for the development of TPS was compiled. Five services are envisaged - laundry, catering (in-home, home delivery, in-centre) care, advisory and secretarial. The care and catering services will be a rationalisation and expansion of the services already being provided by TPS, whereas the laundry, advisory and secretarial services will be new ventures for which TPS has identified a local market. The plan points out that the enterprise, being service orientated, is labour intensive and requires minimum start-up capital. It is anticipated that implementation of the plan would realize seven full-time and nine part-time jobs in the first year, rising to ten full time and six part time by the third year.
47. TPS combines a sensitive and much-needed response to the needs of vulnerable sections of a local population with a strategic response to the inclusion needs of rural women through skills training, part-time employment and confidence building. The service offered is flexible and tailored to the needs of the customers. It is often very personal, being delivered in clients homes and, in order to be effective, calls for a high degree of sensitivity, understanding, discretion and personal commitment on the part of the carer. It is, in effect, a commercialisation of old networks of caring and neighbourliness which no longer operate as effectively or spontaneously as in the past, particularly in rural areas with skewed population structures.
48. Bysson Co-operative in Jamtland in the north of Sweden, is an association with members from three villages with a total population of 130. It has fifty members which is almost half of the adult population of the area. In 1985 the areas shop, bus route and school looked to be threatened with closure so a group of women formed a local association of villages incorporating a study circle called Living Countryside. They decided that a strategy was needed to improve services and promote hospitality so as to attract new families to the villages. The first two projects were the creation of an ice-rink and converting an old school into a multi-services centre. The work was carried out mainly by women volunteers and funded by organizing events and raffles.
49. The villagers realized that one precondition for maintaining village services was to build more houses and create employment. Byssbon (The Villagers, in Swedish) Co-operative was set up and took out a loan (guaranteed by the local municipality) in order to build three one-family houses in the architectural style of the area. Three families moved into the houses and, although the recession precluded any further building, the co-operative continued to provide and demand improvements in communal facilities. In 1995 the co-op built a residential care centre for the elderly, again with a loan guaranteed by the municipality. The idea was to allow older people to continue to live in the area while vacating their house for newcomers. This strategy has been successful in that seven new families have moved into the area including eleven children. A creche (day nursery) was opened in 1995 and following several closures of the village shop one of the co-operative members has taken it over with the help of an interest-free loan from the local population.
50. Byssbon has also been actively involved in telematics and 90 people have taken computer courses. The co-op is an officially recognised telecentre within the Swedish Rural Telematics Network and this has led to the creation of four jobs in teleworking involving setting up and managing databases for private companies. It also has responsibility for managing the database of the Council of Local Initiatives which is a network of 2,500 groups involved in rural development.
51. Those involved in this co-operative attribute much of its success to the pioneering spirit of its founders and to strong support from the public authorities, who seemed to be particularly sensitive to the needs of rural women and to the existence of strong solidarity networks in Sweden.
52. Duhallow is a rural area of about 400 square miles located in the south west of Ireland. It has a population of around 30,000 in 28 communities. Integrated Resource Development (IRD) Duhallow was established by a group of local people to revitalise the region and to promote locally based development.
53. Apart from providing a wide range of support for private sector and community projects, IRD Duhallow has established a community care network. This initiative is intended to generate new employment opportunities by providing services to older people on a commercial basis. Support has been received from the section of the European Regional Development Fund which supports the creation of new employment opportunities in non-traditional sectors. A ready to eat hot meals service has been set up on a commercial basis and is operating in a local area. Twenty five women have been trained in food hygiene and preparation. Further training in caring and other skills is planned.
54. It is expected that at the end of the pilot stage the Rural Community Care Network will be able to operate as a commercial business providing a range of services which include meal delivery, relief care, elder care and childcare as well as services for people with disabilities. The initiative is expected to create the equivalent of ten full-time jobs (most jobs will be part-time) in the next two years.
55. The exclusion of women from decision-making structures is undemocratic, discriminatory and wasteful of their unique intellectual resources and perspective. Structures concerned with development, on which half the population has partial or no representation, cannot adequately address their interests. The extensive gender inequalities in rural life already described, including differences in the nature of work undertaken by women and men and their respective access to services and facilities, make it clear that women will have totally different experiences, concerns and approaches to development problems. Their exclusion from, or under-representation in, structures in which development decisions are made and strategies implemented, will inevitably narrow the scope of development actions and reduce their effectiveness. More fundamentally, it is unlikely that such structures can adequately respond to womens development needs and interests.
56. The problem of rural womens under-representation in decision-making structures has its origins in their traditional exclusion from equal involvement in critical decisions in the private domain of the family business. These inequalities are replicated and heightened in the public arena from local to national.
57. In farming and agribusiness politics, women continue to be seen in their traditional private role of homemakers and carers and are given little space and encouragement to assume a public role. Where the typical division of labour in rural homes involves women taking sole responsibility for caring and domestic work, it may be considered normal and natural for women to stay at home and men to go out to meetings. It often takes considerable skill and delicate negotiation to change this situation and bring about a shift in perspective without creating family tension. Moreover, partners and other family members may resist sharing in domestic responsibilities (housework and caring) with the result that any new activities will frequently involve an additional burden for women.
58. Male dominance in farming is reflected in womens almost total lack of representation in farming and agricultural organizations. In Ireland in 1997, for example, the two main farming organizations representing farm families had four women out of seventy-six (five per cent) and one out of fifty-eight (two per cent) respectively on their national representative bodies. In 1998 just over a third of the membership of the young farmers organization (Macra na Feirme) are female. Women are actively recruited for social events and competitions but remain excluded from positions of prominence or confined to gender-stereotyped roles in the organizational structure. Eighty-three per cent of the (twenty-six) county chairpersons are male while seventy-seven percent of the secretaries are female. Women occupy just two out of the eleven key roles on the national council of this organization - that of secretary and treasurer.
59. Liepins (1998), in a recent article on Australian farm womens activism, outlines a number of practices which marginalise women and make it difficult for them to participate in farming politics. These are also quite common in other contexts and include:
60. Despite the considerable activism and international visibility of the Australian farm womens movement in the 1990s [ Australian farm women instigated the inaugural Women in Agriculture International Conference in 1994. This was attended by 850 Australian and overseas delegates. They were also the most prominent overseas representatives at the follow-up conference held in Washington, DC in 1998. ] and its sustained and strategic targeting of farmer organizations and governments, Liepins points out that progress has been limited. Farm organizations have made little more than rhetorical overtures to the movement and while governments have consulted with farm women who have extended their networks of influence, real gains have been limited, particularly in relation to farm womens representation on decision-making structures (1998:152)
61. The pattern of male dominance in agricultural politics has to some extent been carried over into the structures of rural and local development where gender inequality is also prevalent. While women are often prominent in locally-based development initiatives, particularly those concerned with service provision, community development or training, they are frequently under-represented in the organizational structures associated with rural development. When development activity moves into the public and political arena it is as if rural women disappear.
62. For instance, in Ireland in first phase of the EU LEADER Initiative for rural development 1991-1994, where each of the seventeen LEADER groups had a board of directors, only ten per cent of the members were women. Almost two-thirds of boards had none or only one female director. In the light of these imbalances, the evaluators of LEADER I recommended that its successor, LEADER II, should find ways of increasing the number of female board members. As a result, LEADER II groups are required to incorporate gender awareness and gender balance into the operation of their programmes. A specific target for groups is to ensure that, by the conclusion of the programme, at least 40 per cent of board directors are women. Nevertheless the position at the end of 1996 was far from satisfactory. Out of a total of 34 boards with 526 members, only 99 (19 per cent) were women. The average board size was 15 and one board had no woman member. Half the boards had only two or less women members and only the five larger boards (with an average of about 20 members) had five or more female members. In other words, the best groups had reached a quarter female members and they were a small minority.
63. Currently in Ireland there are 38 local partnership companies operating a programme for local development which is supported by EU Structural Funds. Board membership is made up of nominees from the private, public and community sectors. In June 1996 women accounted for just a quarter of all directors on Partnership Boards. Community directors had the highest proportion of women at 42 per cent, whereas only 16 per cent of the private sector and 21 percent of those representing public agencies were women. Indeed 17 boards had no woman representing the private sector. Just a quarter of board chairpersons and 29 percent of managers were female. This under-representation exists in spite of the fact that there is an explicit commitment to gender equality in the Partnerships and a special emphasis on childcare in order to facilitate womens participation.
64. Even where women do become involved in local organizations they still face very considerable obstacles. One study of the experiences of women involved in Local Development Partnerships in Ireland revealed that the organizational culture can be very difficult for women. In the first place women, particularly those representing the community sector, often have a more co-operative approach to work, different from the formal, hierarchical model typically found in the Partnerships. This latter approach often relies heavily on informal contact and old boy networks so that much groundwork from which women can be excluded is done outside of the formal meetings (Faughnan et al., 1997). Moreover, if women are invited on to boards because of their gender, or are very much in the minority, they can experience the tyranny of tokenism where they are expected to remain relatively quiet and to feel grateful for being asked to participate. In these circumstances, and in situations where women, (compared to men who come up through the ranks of sporting organizations or trade unions), have little experience of the formal procedures and structures of organizations, they feel ineffectual and have difficulty in participating effectively. Women themselves have articulated this in terms of feeling left out or of not being taken seriously.
65. At an international level the rankings of gender disparity in the UN Human Development Reports of recent years show clearly that gender inequality exists in all societies. The measure of gender empowerment (GEM), introduced in the 1995 Human Development Report, measures gender inequality in key areas of economic and political participation and decision-making. In the 1997 Report the Scandinavian countries top this ranking, the leading four countries being Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, followed by New Zealand, Canada and the USA. There are nine other European countries in the first twenty places. Hungary is ranked 25 and is the highest of the CEE countries included, ahead of Bulgaria at 27 and Poland at 42. One interesting feature of the ranking is that some developing countries outperform much more materially advanced countries in gender equality (UNDP, 1997). Unfortunately, we do not have indices for the CIS countries or the other CEE states, but Table 1 contains some comparative data on political participation for CIS and CEE countries together with a fairly random selection of some other European states. This table highlights the deterioration in womens participation in parliament in the post-transition period in some CEE states.
66. In northern Europe then, the Scandinavian states post-war commitment to equality has proven effective, in that these states have now managed to achieve higher levels of gender equality in participation and decision-making than anywhere else. The ongoing challenge for them is to ensure that legislative change and gender-aware policies are translated into real practice and lead to continued decreases in inequalities.
67. In CEE countries the former ideology of equality which guaranteed full-time paid work for all women, provided institutional childcare, maternity leave and an accessible health system appeared to conflate equality and sameness. The main objective was to integrate women into the production process, and outward equality masked deep differences in the work burdens and gender roles of men and women. In the transition era it may be difficult to create a sense of urgency concerning the need to involve rural women in decision-making, particularly where equality issues appear to sit uneasily with free market ideologies and minimal state intervention and where grass-roots womens organizations are weak or non-existent. The case studies of national action plans for the integration of rural women in development carried out for Hungary and Slovenia (FAO, 1997) provide important templates for how the problems of rural women in CEE countries might be tackled.
|Country||% In Local Municipalities (1990 - 94)||% In Parliament||% In Government (1995)|
|Albania||n/a||n/a||(1987) 28.0||(1994) 6.0||0||16.1||12.3|
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||(1986) 17.3 (1990) 5.0||n/a||(1986) 24.0||(1996) 2.38||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Bulgaria||20.0||13.0||(1988) 21.0||(1997) 13.3||9.1||8.3||8.5|
|Czech Republic||17.0||5.0||(1981) 28.0||(1996) 9.0||0||1.6||1.2|
|Hungary||n/a||17.0||(1987) 21.0||(1994) 11.0||5.3||8.1||7.7|
|Lithuania||n/a||0||(1985) 35.7||(1994) 7.6||0||11.8||8.6|
|Poland||10.0||6.0||(1988) 20.2||(1997) 13.0||6.3||8.8||8.0|
|Romania||n/a||14.0||(1987) 34.0||(1994) 4.0||0||4.0||3.3|
|Slovakia||n/a||12.0||(1988) 29.5*||(1994) 18.0||13.6||12.5||12.8|
|Slovenia||n/a||n/a||(1980s) 12.0||(1996) 7.7||0||n/a||n/a|
68. In the European Union, the long-standing commitment to equality within the EU, and its predecessor European Community (EC), has been the strongest influence in advancing the gender agenda over the past two decades. Through four successive Equality Action Programmes, the European Commission has promoted and supported a progressive range of actions which have been given effect in various equality programmes, directives and other instruments. In recent years, it has been a condition of EU Structural Funding to require member states to make a commitment to gender equality in public expenditure. Thus, a combination of binding legal instruments, programme incentives and funding conditionalities have stimulated the various member states to take gender equality issues seriously and to put equality mechanisms in place. The actions of the European Commission have also facilitated and reinforced the activities of an extensive and diverse grass-roots womens movement. This movement has become more fragmented and specialised over the past decade and strong and professional issue-based groups have emerged. Among its diverse strands are several effective lobby groups and networks. In many cases the ability to access EU funding and form trans-national links have been critical to the consolidation and growth of womens groups and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Various NGOs concerned with the promotion of gender equality have achieved consultative and/or negotiative status at government and international level.
69. The NOW Programme, although accounting for just a tiny fraction of total EU Structural Fund expenditures, has been a particularly effective instrument in pioneering appropriate ways of addressing womens training needs. NOW has facilitated and empowered womens groups and NGOs to become involved as promoters in a diverse range of project initiatives and partnerships. The emphasis on local involvement and on trans-nationality in the NOW Programme has grounded the projects in local conditions while, at the same time, opening up valuable exchange and networking experiences to the participants. Moreover, the organization and successful implementation of a NOW project confers legitimacy and credibility on its promoters which might otherwise be difficult to attain, particularly in rural areas where women have few resources. In a different context, the EU sponsored Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, by providing funding for networking, has also acted as a catalyst for rural womens groups (Crawley, 1998).
70. The climate of gender awareness created in the EU has impacted significantly on the policies of individual member states. In Ireland, for example, a policy of ensuring a 40 per cent gender balance in appointments of government nominees to state boards was introduced in 1993. The current National Development Plan 1994-1999 contains a specific commitment to the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of gender and to the ending of the exclusion of women from many aspects of economic and social life. As already mentioned, rural development groups operating under the LEADER Initiative are required to work towards 40 per cent representation. Detailed guidelines on achieving gender equality in local development have been issued to Local Development Partnerships who manage community and local development projects. All proposals to cabinet must be accompanied by a gender impact statement and policy statements routinely contain a commitment to principles of equality.
71. The EU commitment to equality has then created an important context for the advancement of gender issues. This has translated into an awareness of gender imbalance in decision-making and commitments to gender equality in representation on the part of member states. However, it is important to recognise that the amount of funding devoted to gender programmes is only a tiny fraction of total EU and state expenditures, and to be clear that there is much ground to be covered before even a semblance of equality in decision-making is reached. Indeed, this was evident from the data in Table 1.
72. In order to address the problem of their unequal representation in decision-making structures, rural women need to be enabled and encouraged to participate. The issue needs to be addressed at local, national and international levels.
73. At national level the first requirement is for gender equality policies throughout the political and administrative system. This involves creating or strengthening institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women and the integration of gender perspectives into legislation, policy, planning and evaluation. This process, known generally as mainstreaming, aims to incorporate gender equality issues into all aspects of policy and planning and to shift the emphasis from programmes and projects specifically for and about women, to one which addresses both sides of the equality equation.
74. This "gender approach" to development, already a well established strategy in international development, is based on a recognition of the differences in socio-economic roles, status and power between women and men. It involves tackling the inequalities associated with these differences and attempting to bring about greater equality. Putting gender issues at the centre of policy and planning is particularly important in agriculture and rural development where market and commodity concerns tend to dominate the policy agenda and discourse.
75. Experiences to date suggest that putting gender equality principles into practice at national level gives rise to a number of key issues and requirements.
76. At local level, conditions will vary in different contexts but certain common issues and needs can be identified.
77. At international level, the combination of moral authority and financial resources which international bodies often command, can be a potent stimulator of action on equality.
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