This month, Charlene updates us on how the Women Entrepreneurship Platform is raising the profile and issues of women farmers through virtual teamwork and collaboration. The process has been started via a webinar which culminated in a proposal for a cross-commission working group focusing on women’s entrepreneurship in the rural sector.
It’s all about the process
One of the nicest take-aways of the COVID-19 pandemic, during an otherwise difficult time, is that of the webinar we held last week on the topic of ‘Women farmers and entrepreneurs – in agriculture and rural areas: What about the Green Deal?’ It took nearly a year, from first contact to final product, to realise. It is also by chance that the various parties came together to hold this event. During the process of organising the webinar, we were not always convinced that it should go ahead when it did, and up until the last weeks we even considered postponing it until autumn, to give us more time to organise it better. But in the end we lined up the topics and speakers, made the flyer and announced it on social media’ and voila, the webinar was held!
Why a webinar, why about rural women, and why now?
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) – the advocacy organisation based in Brussels that I am collaborating with – was struggling last spring with how to proceed with our work. We could no longer hold sponsored meetings in the Parliament to present information and examples in support of actions for women entrepreneurs, and we were unable to meet in person with the decision-makers to make our case. We decided to look into webinars, and started making contacts. A friend introduced me to Foodlog, a Dutch organisation that is focused on issues concerning agriculture and food. Sitting alone in my small home office, I contacted them, learned about their interests and suggested three topics. As it turned out, the subject of women in agriculture clicked and we started our discussions.
‘I learned that women are considered to be the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. And oftentimes, women on the farm are seen as someone who is there to clean up the mess.’
Over the past year, I dove into the topic of women farmers, and learned that women are considered to be the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. The family farm is a small business, frequently passed down from father to son, of which the farmer’s wife may or may not have joint ownership. Women farmers, however, are every bit entrepreneurs, although our patriarchal societies do not always recognise the value of their work. In discussions with women farmers, and with a researcher at Wageningen University, it became clear that oftentimes women on the farm are seen as someone who is there to clean up the mess. I also learned that they frequently sit at the kitchen table with their spouse and family members, contribute to strategic decision-making and to important farm-related products and services, including those that have an impact on the environment and climate.Women farmers are close to the land, they support the idea of multifunctional agriculture where secondary use such as agritourism, child and elderly care and educational and personal services are developed on the farm that help women make a living and combat rural isolation. Some women are also award-winning farmers who have brought interesting new products and services on the market. Yet their voices are not always heard.
Our planet is broken, and the decision to focus our webinar on the topic of rural women is also closely related to the Global Climate Crisis. One of WEP’s member associations is the Copa Women’s Committee (of Copa & Cogeca – the united voice of farmers and cooperatives in the EU). With this webinar, we would be supporting an important member as well as linking the webinar to the concept that women farmers, who are close to the land and bring new ideas to the table, can help us to solve Global Climate Crisis problems. The Green Deal – the EU’s €1 trillion programme over the next 10 years – is focused on this topic.
Our webinar went well, and we are pleased with the results. We were able to make our case, including with a Member of the European Parliament and the European Commission. In addition, a statement was released to the media and will be brought forward to the EU Parliament and the FEMM Committee, which deals with gender issues, calling on the need to do more to ensure that women entrepreneurs, in particular in rural areas, are brought on board. Finally, the suggestion was made that a cross-Commission working group be formed of ±10 Commission Directorate Generals to focus on women’s entrepreneurship and to demonstrate the importance of this topic. The EU also has a leadership role to play, as the world is watching how these important matters are dealt with.
In the end, I realised that what was important to me about our webinar was also the working relationship that we had built up over the past year. The five main members of the team have never met each other in person, but built up a solid working relationship online during the COVID-19 crisis. We had the energy to collaborate, and this went a long way to ensure that we were able to hold the webinar. We are now talking about what our next steps may be, with the suggestion made that rural women should be asked how they think they can contribute to the Green Deal. There are still many issues to be explored, research to be done and actions to be taken, and more will certainly be happening.
Would you like to know more? To watch the webinar please use the link below.