From 16 to 18 June, France celebrates national agriculture days. Throughout the country, a number of initiatives are being organized to celebrate and inform about agriculture. The French company FEVE however has decided to take this opportunity to address the topic of gender equality in our industry.
Tomorrow until Saturday, many French farms and food processing companies will open their doors to the public in celebration of the third edition of the National Agriculture Days. This initiative from the French Ministry of Agriculture aims to showcase the different jobs in our industry and give insight in the daily life of the people who work in agriculture.
FEVE (Fermes En ViE), an agricultural real estate company that provides financing and support to help beginning farmers set up their agro-ecology projects, decided to focus on the position of women in agriculture, address the topic of gender equality in our industry and highlight the stories of a few women who set up their own farms. A reaction to the long history of women being very present, but also virtually invisible on the farms.
Historically, agriculture in Europe has been a male-dominated industry, the farms traditionally being handed down from father to son and the women relegated to the role of “helpers”, an extension of their roles as housewives and mothers. It is interesting to note that the French word agricultrice – female farmer – was not added to the Larousse dictionary until 1961. Even more interestingly, there still isn’t a word for “female farmer” in the English language, most referring to her as the “farmer’s wife”. Yet in France, according to the Mutualité Sociale Agricole (a mutualité is a complementary insurance that covers all or part of the difference between what one has to pay for their health care and the social security refund, red.), one in four farm managers are women.
Nicole Touyet, a shepherdess who was able to set up with the support of the FEVE, comments: “the reflex is still to think that a shepherd is a man. The questions I get most often are if I really am the shepherdess and if the sheep are mine!”
In 2021, the French Ministry of Agriculture who is organising the agriculture days published an infographic on the position of women in agriculture in France. Women now account for 30% of the permanent workforce and 24% of farmers, compared with 8% in 1970. There is still work to do, however, as only 21% of those farm managers are independent farm managers, the others being co-managers with their husbands. Still according to the MSA, 10.5% of these independent farm managers only became farm managers after their spouses retired.
Clearly, more legal and regulatory actions are needed in France in order to achieve gender equality in agriculture. According to Presse Agence FR, this is a pivotal time to achieve it with the pension reforms currently being a hot topic in the country. As it is, the pensions of women farmers are still significantly lower than those of their male counterparts, a symptom of the inequalities linked to marital status in our industry – the women on the farm often being registered as helping stay at home spouses and hence not eligible for a full pension. With its action, FEVE wants to achieve more visibility for women in our industry and this achieving more representation for women. Marguerite Legros, floriculturist in Brittany and former FEVE employee: “if we want to do something about clichés and promote equality, I think we need to try and get rid of the fear of powerful women. I know I scare men in my industry because I am fully autonomous, I handle the tractor and the chainsaw on my own, provide my own fire wood for the stove… This is really an ego thing and it is preventing us from achieving equality.”
To date, the FEVE has already enabled four women to set up their businesses: Camille in Poitou-Charentes, Nicole in the Pyénées Atlantiques, Julie in the Landes region and Chrisine in the Orne department. Women in Ag will be bringing their stories.
Read more about FEVE and its initiatives for women in agriculture: