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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Over 20% of farming women have ‘little to no say’ over farm decisions

Gaining ownership of farms and land, caring responsibilities, a lack of support from family, underrepresentation of women role models and gender bias in the industry are the main challenges that women in agriculture face.

That is according to a new report entitled Breaking the Grass Ceiling – Challenges Women Experience in the Local Agricultural Sector from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee launched the report on International Women’s Day this year.

The report states that the challenges women face are “complex, multi-faceted and long-standing”.

It adds that women experience a range of practical, social, and cultural barriers which prevent them from taking on opportunities and progressing in the sector.

Women in agriculture: challenges

The main barriers that the report refers to include:

–       Succession;

–       Access to finance;

–       Training and education;

–       A caring role;

–       Social stigma.

Farm ownership and responsibilities 

For the purpose of the report, it sought the views of local women through an online survey that was accessible from December 2021 to January 2022.

In total, it received 178 responses from women living or working within the agricultural sector.

83% of respondents revealed that a man owns the farm on which they live/work.


According to the report, 15% of the women who completed the survey consider themselves to be the final decision-maker on their farm. 23% said they feel they have ‘little to no say’ over farm decisions.

Furthermore, 98% regularly participate in on-farm activities. Besides, just under one-third undertake ‘hands-on” practical tasks in addition to supportive jobs like completing paperwork and form-filling.

Other challenges: Childcare, elderly relatives and low self-confidence 

Participants cited expectations of women to be responsible for childcare or look after elderly relatives as an important barrier. This “limits” opportunities to engage more extensively in farm activities.

Many respondents also reported feelings of low self-confidence amongst women in the sector due to social stigma and lack of opportunities.

Off-farm employment

According to the study, most respondents work at least 20 hours on their farm per week. Approximately one-fifth said they work more than full-time hours.

67% of respondents have employment off-farm. 41% of these women have utilised income from their jobs to subsidise farm expenses and/or secure finance for the business.

70% of respondents revealed that the culture within the sector is a challenge in that women are not respected as equals to men.

Some revealed that there is an “unacceptance of women farmers” in some quarters.

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