During the past year and a half that I have had the privilege of writing a Farmers View for The Courier, I have touched on some of the challenges I have faced as a female involved with agriculture.
So when I was asked to co-chair the Women In Farming task force with cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing it didn’t take long for me to accept.
This is a groundbreaking opportunity to make a real difference to our agricultural industry and make it a better place for everyone who operates within it. The remit of the task force, and the specific areas to be scrutinised, immediately struck a cord with me as areas in need of much improvement.
I have had feedback, mainly positive, but a couple of negative quips with regards to the task force, from women and men. None of us can ignore the clear facts that women have been very poorly represented within our industry in leadership roles.
The Scottish Government report into Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector highlights some of the issues that women face. Some men, active in farming organisations, state that men would not vote for women to have committee positions. Women report having experienced forms of exclusion, with them being asked to leave meetings after a meal was over and some agricultural buyers having dinners for male customers only.
This may only reflect a small percentage of what women are experiencing but for me it’s totally unacceptable that in this day and age it’s happening at all.
I have the utmost respect for women with children who are farming or involved with agriculture. The organisation of daily life for them and their partners must be like a juggling act.
I don’t have children but I’m extremely lucky to have a sister who allows me to ‘borrow’ Frances and Mure, my niece and nephew. Its hasn’t escape my notice that I’m not alone in being childless and involved with shepherding – it’s just a hard fact of life for some. I cried as I listened to Sybil and George MacPherson talk about their situation with regard to having a family on the BBC’s This Farming Life.
Childcare, extremely busy lives and lack of time are definitely limiting factors to women’s engagement in farm leadership.
At a recent meeting I had the unfortunate experience of having my accent mimicked by a gentleman who had held a leadership position in the organisation. I listened as he rolled out his best north coast twang to the delight of his sidekicks. It was my punishment for challenging the thinking of some suffering with the ‘aye been done’ syndrome.
Afterwards I did wonder if I had been a man if he would have been so quick to slap down the points I was making or would more respect have been paid to my views?
It’s long past time to move forward and embrace the different perspective that the inclusion of more women would bring to all sectors our industry. We have so much to offer. For goodness sake even the new Dr Who is a woman – what’s the world coming to!