Women are the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43% of the world’s agricultural labor force, which rises to 70% in some countries.
In Africa, 80% of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women. Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, but do not have access and control over all land and productive resources.

Women have been working behind the scenes on farms for decades as farmer’s wives or daughters with their work unpaid and overshadowed by the man’s job. The stereotype is that a farmer is a man – just think of what a farmer looks like in a children’s book – and that has held women back. In practical terms too, women have historically struggled to own land, which was, at least in the past more traditionally passed on to sons. Historic inequality in ownership and control is both a cause and consequence of farming not being seen as a suitable career for women.

A shift in attitudes

In the past, to be a good farmer was to be a good man. Toughness and strength were considered masculine traits and were valued in farming because of the manual labour involved in cutting crops or managing a dairy. Women were often restricted to a supporting role – providing domestic and emotional support. But, it seems that our perceptions of what it means to be a farmer are changing as the number of women running farms increases..

This cultural shift could be linked to the women farmers on television and such websites as Farmers Trend which help to break down long established gender stereotypes. Take the farming success stories on Farmers Trend for example. Several strong-willed women characters do not fit the outdated stereotype of a farmer as an unsophisticated old man. They represent a new breed of farming stock capable and determined to get their hands dirty in running a farm.

Women often gravitate towards the more business end of the job, such as in marketing, which offers new opportunities for leadership. Business mindedness is now central to the role of a farmer as the industry faces increasing financial pressures and fierce competition within a global market.

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The machinery has changed as well. In many ways, farming is less physically demanding than it used to be. Different skills are needed and farmers have to be able to embrace new technologies. Take automated milking systems, for example, and the impact it has had on commanding a herd.

And of course agricultural education is changing things too. It allows women to establish themselves in the field on their own merit. The accessibility of training is breaking down barriers and inspiring young women to make their mark in a sector over-represented by men. As developing specialisms becomes a key selling point, it is a more necessary part of becoming a farmer than the old days.

The changing nature of farming as a profession is helping challenge stigma about what is men’s and women’s work but the battle for equality hasn’t been won yet. Women may be empowered to enter farming but defying stereotypes will remain crucial in keeping women in farming and leadership roles.

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