Northern Ireland news

Assembly committee launches survey to help women in agriculture break the `grass ceiling'

Declan McAleer MLA, is Chairman of the Assembly Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

FOR centuries farming has been considered a `man's job' with women facing many barriers in the sector, particularly due to the tradition of passing farm ownership to sons in farm families, which has gone on for generations.

However, as we all know, women play an instrumental role in carrying out practical farming activities as well as being at the forefront of farm management and diversification. Unfortunately, this is often uncredited and under-recognised.

While attitudes may be starting to change, there is little doubt that women in the agricultural sector still face enormous challenges, particularly in terms of land and farm ownership, cultural stigma and access to finance.

Through our survey we want to learn about the experiences of local agricultural women, understand their role and the barriers they face on a day-to-day basis. We want to hear how government could bring forward policies to support them to have greater prominence and leadership in the industry.

A number of reports have shown that initiatives in other jurisdictions have helped to overcome challenges women in agriculture face, with an increasing prevalence of women farm owners and greater diversification as a result.

As the local farming sector is on the verge of a significant period of change due to new policies and economic trade flows, it is important that steps are taken to ensure our farming workforce is accessible, varied and flexible to meet new challenges.

As part of our review, we will benchmark initiatives elsewhere to help us shape future initiatives at a local level.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our committee's remit is the opportunity to meet people who live and work across the agricultural sector. We have visited, and heard from, a number of talented and inspiring women who have had a direct role in restructuring farms, diversifying activities and increasing the economic viability of agricultural businesses.

Many of these women have accomplished their goals through individual talent, perseverance and determination, while not always having the benefit of an equal playing field in terms of access to financial opportunities and general support.

It is therefore vital that young women are inspired, encouraged and supported to take on opportunities in the agricultural sector with confidence and pursue viable and sustainable career paths in the industry.

We must seek to address the cultural and practical barriers within the farming sphere that women have faced for decades and to support and champion the role of women in the sector.

We are keen to hear all views and we particularly encourage women working or planning to work in the agricultural sector to complete the survey. I have no doubt that the results will open our eyes to the specific issues that local women face and will be invaluable in informing our recommendations for future policies in this area.

The Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs survey, Breaking the 'Grass' Ceiling: Barriers for Women in the Agriculture Sector is available now at and will close at midnight on Friday 14 January 2022.

:: Declan McAleer MLA, is Chairman of the Assembly Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

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