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Cattle grazing on the banks of the River Moy, County Sligo. Alamy Stock Photo

‘Unacceptable cultural barriers’ preventing women taking over family farms

Charlie McConalogue pledged to do ‘everything we can’ to bring in policy changes.

THE MINISTER FOR Agriculture has said “unacceptable cultural barriers” that prevent women from taking over family farms need to be removed.

Charlie McConalogue pledged to do “everything we can” to bring in policy changes to the industry and remove barriers that have existed for generations.

He said agriculture remains largely “a male-dominated sector”, adding that contributions by women are not usually recognised.

The Government is to establish a national dialogue on women in agriculture on St Brigid’s Day, 1 February.

The event will be chaired by former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who said women working on farms should be given the recognition they deserve.

It will discuss how to increase the visibility and status of women in agriculture, and also examine whether any policy, financial and societal impediments prevent more women getting involved in a career in farming and agriculture.

In 2016, the Central Statistics Office reported more than 71,000 people working on farms were women but less than a quarter were the owners.

McConalogue said the Government’s plan will make significant progress in relation to the “unacceptable cultural barriers that have been there for many years, generations”.

“We need to face facts, agriculture is still largely a male-dominated sector and the crucial role women play is often not fully understood, appreciated or recognised,” he added.

“Whilst some 12% of farms are held by women, this does not tell the full story of the effort, skill and sacrifice that women play in the family farm.

“I think we need to see a cultural change. There’s no doubt there has been a culture which has been a barrier to women taking over family farms for many, many generations.

“That handing down as a family name in the farm, whether it was a son or a daughter or a niece or nephew, it was always a son or nephews that was preferred over the daughter or the niece.

“That must change. I think we are starting to see that change. But we need to, at policy level, do everything we can that actually implements that.”

Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett, who is also a farmer, said many people in Ireland consider farming a male world.

“I’ve plenty of anecdotes from female farmers of people arriving and saying ‘can I speak to the boss’. They say ‘sorry, I am the boss and I’m female. I’m the one who has the name on the herd’.

“It’s about breaking through that glass ceiling, in a way, for women.

“I think things are changing. There is a cultural shift needed.”

Martin Heydon, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, said women have been central to farm roles for generations.

He said those roles are not visible or sufficiently recognised.

“Women are key decision makers in nearly every family farm enterprise,” he added.

“I don’t know too many men who don’t make a big decision about the farm that don’t consult the female spouse in the house.

“Those key decision makers aren’t recognised and don’t have their name down as an equal partner on that farm. That’s something we want to change.”

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