Irish women demand more visible role in farming sector


WOMEN ARE no longer prepared to be “invisible” in Irish farming, Maireád Lavery, the head of the Agri-Aware organisation, said yesterday.

She was speaking to about 600 attending the Women in Agriculture conference in Athlone, which discussed both the role played by women on farms and areas of concern, including property rights, inheritance and divorce in relation to farmland.

Although women carried out up to 25 per cent of work on farms, there were few registered female farm owners, and representation in the farm organisations was very low and did not reflect the realities, Ms Lavery said.

“We are trying to address these issues and bring women to their rightful place in the sector, which relies so heavily on the input of women and to have a general conversation about where we are going,” she said.

“Women have been invisible for far too long in agriculture and we want to see an end to that day and for the place of women in agriculture, agri-business and across the sector generally, to be acknowledged,” she told the conference in the Hodson Bay Hotel.

Lynn Sykes, an Australian who is a world-acknowledged authority on farm family succession planning, urged the farm women to begin what she called “the conversation” on farm succession.

“In Australia, as here in Ireland, the tradition was the family farm was handed down normally to the eldest son, but that has had to change as other members of the family became more vocal about their rights and this causes great heartache and pain,” she said.

“There is also the question about divorce. If a woman marries into a farm and that marriage breaks up it can lead to a poisonous situation, which infects the entire extended family.”

The best way to approach the opening of this “conversation”, she said, was with gentle humour and not head-on or by being confrontational. But the major issues of succession had to and should be addressed.

“I would urge, for instance, young people getting married to have a pre-nuptial agreement to sort out problems. It’s not easy to bring up the subject with young couples, but you must look at the high divorce rates and the difficulties this creates,” she said.

“They are a godsend and even if they do not enter into a legal agreement the issue has been discussed. This is a risk that has to be managed,” she said.

In recent years the major issue that had arisen in Australia was the fear of older people having their wills challenged. She said she would urge families to sit down, have the conversation and then go to the legal professionals.

The Irish Farmers’ Association farm, family social affairs chairperson, Mary Sherry, called on health professionals to reduce their charges by a minimum of 20 per cent, as current charges were “totally unsustainable and unjustified” and must now reflect reduced family incomes.

She said consultants, GPs, dentists, pharmacists and other health professionals had to “come down to earth and get real in the fees they charge for their services, which are the highest in Europe”.

Dr Maureen Gaffney, psychologist and writer, said Fortune 500 research on top US companies had shown when women were involved in senior management, companies performed much better than where there was little or no female involvement.

This research, she said, pointed the way for Irish agriculture, where women’s involvement at the highest levels would generate more profitability and better all-round structures. There was a clear opportunity now for more involvement by women.

She said women approach negotiation with more anxiety – they expect less, they get less and walk away with less – and she wanted to teach women how to improve their negotiating skills.