Lotta Folkesson, President of the Women’s Committee of COPA- COGECA rural women, invites us to get an inside look at how they work to empower more women in the rural sector in order to close the gender gap.
By: Bárbara Aguayo Martínez, agri-food journalist/ @BarbaraAguayoM3
Next year, 2023, COPA-COGECA will present a new slogan “Women farmers at the forefront of rural areas” for the innovation awards for women farmers 2023. What objectives do you intend to achieve under this slogan?
The main goal of our innovation award is to give a platform to highlight the various initiatives women farmers are undertaking. We also want to highlight the crucial role of women farmers and women in rural areas to reach the Agenda 2030 goals for Sustainable Development. There is a stereotype that women are more focused on softer aspects like social and environment sustainability. What we want to highlight is that women entrepreneurs are also successful businesswomen that focus on financial sustainability just like their male counterparts. Successful sustainable business means that all three parts of sustainability coexist and prosper at the same time.
One of the great challenges that COPA-COGECA was pursuing for the year 2022 was to involve more women in agriculture and, to a greater extent, in management positions in the governing councils. Has this increase been achieved and, if so, what measures would you highlight that have benefited the incorporation of women?
It is a bit early to see if last year’s activities have borne fruit. These are long term objectives that require patience and determination. The women’s committee of Copa-Cogeca is a forum where we empower each other and share best practices. From my point of view this is something that organisations/member states should continuously work towards, but the work will never be finished. Good steps have been taken at EU level with the gender balance on boards directive, however, the day they think that they are “done” we have a problem and risk backsliding. Gender mainstreaming is a never-ending story.
Do you consider that there is still a long way to go for women to position themselves on an equal footing with men in the rural world? Why?
Yes, the numbers are clear, and we still have a long way to go. But we can speed up the progress by ensuring that top management such as CEOs, presidents of organisations, election boards etc, prioritize this question and lead by example. It is also important that organisations have gender strategies that ensure that this issue is part of any decision.
Rural women are not only dedicated to their professional activity, but they also reconcile their working life with their personal and family life. Can this be an obstacle for women not to be more present in governance and leadership positions?
The framing of the question says it all. Do men not try to reconcile work and private life? It is a challenge for everyone. The problem is the expectations from society. We need to move away from the idea that the man is the breadwinner, and the woman takes care of the family. True equality means that we all share all the work. For that to happen men need to do their part and acknowledge their responsibility.
What kind of initiatives or projects are you going to develop in the coming years to give a greater role to women in rural areas?
For the coming year we have several initiatives in the pipeline. First of all, we need to see how Member States are targeting interventions to support women and improve gender equality. Looking to the future, we already need to start preparing the next CAP running from 2027 onwards, to share best practices and ensure that EU member states who haven’t already, are working to support more women and young people into agriculture.
We also have an event planned on access to credit and finance. It has been proven that women face higher obstacles to get loans in order to start their companies than men. Often this is not direct discrimination but is happening indirectly when implemented. Finance institutes require more in terms of business plan, data, market research etc in order to give a loan.
We also have the Women Farmers Innovation Award that highlights great examples being led by women farmers across Europe.
Projects such as MujerAGRO, empower and give visibility to women agricultural professionals in the agri-food sector, being these women the voice and support of others. Do you consider that projects such as these make it possible to change the mentality of male figures?
These projects are important to highlight the situation and bring attention to the fact that we need to have more rural women voices heard. It’s important to see that men are getting involved. The key to create real change is to involve men and make them understand that it is in their best interest to involve women on an equal footing. Scientific research has proven time and again that companies with a mixed leadership perform better on all three aspects of sustainability. At the same time, projects by definition are limited in time, and we want to see permanent positive change.