Woman have always held a very important role in agricultural activity. However, their visibility, like in other economic sectors, has been indiscernible. Women take up only 4% of responsible positions in the rural world, according to data from the Third National Forum of Agroprofessional Women, held in 2019. To achieve the desired equality, it is essential that women take up more roles in governing councils and bodies in businesses and cooperatives.
The socio-economic importance of the agro-food sector is beyond any doubt. This has been proven in recent months with the health crisis. The agro-food sector is also an essential one when it comes to responding to social problems such as food, water consumption, climate change ...And it is extremely necessary to take women into account. 'As women we are necessary, and we also contribute in the same way as men do to sustainability in its three aspects: economic, environmental and social', Jerónima Bonafé, president of the Women's Association of Agro-food Cooperatives in Spain (AMCAE).
The association highlights that currently only 7% of the members of cooperative governing councils are women, and the sector is still a man's world.
The roots of inequality and how to reduce the gender gap
The invisibility of women within the agro-food sector, as well within other sectors, is attributable to our patriarchal society. The visibility of women in the working environment is a new phenomenon.
The scarce presence of women in the rural labour market is based on a socio-cultural construction, gender, and the differences that it hides in terms of activities to be carried out by men and women.
Gender roles and gender-based division of work determine women's lives, becoming an obstacle to their full participation in the labour market, their professional promotion and their access to positions of power.
Entrepreneurship as a tool to propel the presence of women
In any field, including the agri-food sector, women entrepreneurs, those who want to start their own projects, are having hard times: they lack references, cannot enjoy trust of their environment or their colleagues and there are still biases that discriminate against them in the social or economic support networks.
For this reason, creation of projects or initiatives which promote women's entrepreneurship in rural areas and the agro-food sector are essential. For example, in an attempt to overcome these obstacles, which limit number of business activities for women, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) launched the Intervention Model for the Entrepreneurial Development of Women. The main aim of this project: empower women economically and assist their businesses.
In a similar line, the InnovAgroWoMed project was born with the objective of stimulating the participation of women in the labour market and facilitating women entrepreneurship, taking advantage of the potential of the agri-food sector and showing significant untapped potential for innovation and growth. Five social entities from four countries are participating in this project: University of Rome, Tor Vergata, and the Cesie Centre of European Studies, both from Italy; the Palestinian Businesswomen's Association, the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR), from Tunisia, leading the project, and Jovesólides Spain.
This three-year long project, funded at 87% by the European Union, through the ENI CBC Med programme for a total amount of 2.8 million euros, will provide female entrepreneurs and employees from the agro-food sector with support and tools: optimisation of skills and knowledge; technical and financial support to strengthen their abilities and help them to better regain their place and advance in their careers and projects; the programme will pay special attention to the women who have been most affected by the pandemic as well.
An effective solution to current problems is the InnovAgroWoMed project, which is based on the Rural Social Innovation Paradigm to increase employment opportunities for women in rural areas, or the ILO Model for Intervention to Promote Women's Entrepreneurship. Economic and business empowerment of women is a key element in achieving gender equality and building modern, prosperous and inclusive societies.