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International Day of Rural Women

The first World Rural Women's Day recognising the contribution of women to agriculture and rural development took place on October 15th 1997. It was organised by the Women's World Summit Foundation WWSF. In 2008 the United Nations’ (UN) formally recognised International Day of Rural Women as a day of global observance and it takes place on October 15th each year. The day formally celebrates and honours the role of rural women recognising rural women’s importance in enhancing agricultural and rural development worldwide.

In recent years internationally the day has focused more on the role of women in developing countries, yet it is important that the unique challenges faced by women in agriculture and rural development in Ireland are recognised and actions are taken to address these challenges. It is also important to celebrate the contribution and successes of the many women working in agriculture and rural development in Ireland.

Internationally rural women make up a quarter of the world’s population and comprise 41% of the world’s agricultural labour force. They play important roles in the rural economy working as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. Yet the participation of women in agriculture, rural workers’ and employers’ organizations are low. This low participation rate leads to lack of voice and representation and diminishes opportunities to express and address the challenges and issues they face.

In Ireland data shows the predominance of males in farming, 2016 figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that just under 13,000 women were employed in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. This is 10.8% of the total and far below the EU-28 average of 28.5%. It is important to note that this figure includes only those in paid employment. The most recent Census of Agriculture (2010) show that 12.4% of farms in Ireland are owned by females yet they make up 27.2% of the agricultural workforce.

Yet in spite of comprising over one quarter of the agricultural workforce women in agriculture remain largely invisible in the decision making process that impacts them. This invisibility phenomenon is not confined to agriculture and is recognised as an issue that needs addressing in many areas of life. Some small advances have been made in recent years and some women are now heading organisation connected to agriculture. Women involved directly and indirectly in farming are becoming more visible, over 20% of Teagasc advisors are women.

Criado Perez in her book ‘Invisible Women’ (2019) points out that it is only by making women visible in decision making that society will recognise and give the support that women need. Women, she advises must be asked and included to ensure they are not forgotten.

Teagasc advisor Aisling Molloy in her 2017 Thesis ‘How Teagasc advisory services can improve engagement with and empowerment of farm women’ recognised that for women in farming to engage and to advance they must become visible - an image of women in farming must be created.

Inspiring Irish Rural Women

Debbie Sunderland farms with her dad Fred in Aske, Co Wexford, just minutes from the town of Gorey. At just 27, Debbie is now fulltime farming having decided in 2014 to return to the farm; much to the delight of her dad Fred. Read more about Debbie Drystock - A smooth transition on the farm (PDF)

Harvest Lodge Pigs is located in Co Offaly and managed by Rosemary and Richard Fryday. It is a 600-sow integrated unit. Originally, the Frydays also milked a 140-cow winter milk herd but they disposed of the herd in 2015 to concentrate on the pig operation. Read more about their enterprise Pig production - Pig unit progressing nicely (PDF)

Catherine O’Grady Powers is the sixth generation of the O’Grady family to farm at Glen Keen. Catherine and her husband Jim returned from the US in 2009 to run what was largely a sheep enterprise. Later they diversified into agri-tourism Read more about their business  Diversification - Why visitors are flocking to this Mayo farm (PDF)

Marion Roeleveld, one of four siblings, grew up on a dairy farm just south of Amsterdam. She and her business partner Haske are responsible for Killeen Farmhouse Cheese. Two hundred goats who supply the milk from which this multi award-winning cheese is made on the farm near Portumna in south Galway. Read more about their enterprise Diversification - Goats dont like rain (PDF)

Mary Maher, who was left a 39ha mixed woodland near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, by her late father, John in 2011, says: “Inheriting any asset is a privilege but with privilege comes responsibility.” Read more Forestry - Locally grown woodchip is fuelling industry in