EU member states should pay particular attention to the needs of women in rural areas to create better living conditions and halt depopulation, MEPs said in a resolution voted on Tuesday. Facilitating and promoting women’s access to the labour market in rural areas could be the key to sustaining local populations and should become a top priority in future rural development policies, they add.

Between 2005 and 2010, 2.4 million mostly small or family farms in the EU disappeared, and the economic crisis severely impacted rural regions in terms of rising unemployment and poverty and contributed to an ongoing depopulation of young people, especially women.

Women need greater incentives to stay, say MEPs, including the promise of a greater work/life balance through provision of such services as rural childcare arrangements, healthcare, educational facilities, care homes for elderly and dependent people, sickness and maternity replacement services, and cultural services.

Women contribute significantly, but are often invisible

MEPs note that women are very often creative promoters of activities on or outside the farm and beyond the scope of agricultural production, meaning they impart genuine added value to such activities.

In 2014 women were responsible for about 35% of total working time in agriculture, carrying out 53.8% of part-time work and 30.8% of full-time work, thereby making a significant contribution to agricultural production.

However, on average just 30% of farms in the EU are managed by women, and MEPs note that much of the work carried out informally by spouses and other female family members on farms is often “invisible”, as they are not listed as legal farm owners. Not being a registered owner of a farming business prevents access to rights associated with this ownership, such as single payments, suckler cow premiums, vine planting rights and income, and this places women farmers in a vulnerable position.

Legal recognition essential to improving women’s position

The EU and member states should promote women's farm ownership or co-ownership and facilitate equitable access to land, ensure inheritance rights and facilitate access to credit for women, says non-legislative resolution Parliament approved by 523 votes in favour to 104 against, with 58 abstentions. Gaining professional status and social security registration means women would also gain access to entitlements such as sick leave and maternity leave, as well as greater financial independence, it adds.

“It is necessary to ensure access to land for women in rural areas and all social rights they don't have at the moment because their work on their family farms is not recognised and properly valued. For this reason it is necessary to establish professional status for assisting spouses in farming,” said co-rapporteur Marijana Petir (EPP, HR).

Better facilities needed to create better living conditions for women

Healthcare, education and care of dependents would significantly improve the living conditions of women in rural areas, say MEPs. They call on member states and regional and local governments to provide affordable high-quality facilities and public and private services for everyday life in rural areas in order to relieve the care burden placed on women and to provide them with additional job opportunities.

Women earn less than men


Women also suffer from gender pay and pension gaps which are particularly disparate in some member states, and which MEPs suspect are widest in rural areas.

They reiterate that equality between women and men is a core objective of the EU, and urge the swift elimination of any gender pay and pension gaps so that women can access their fair share of income.

“The salary gap between men and women persists and unemployment hits women far worse than men (...) Lot of women farmers are not seen as such because they do not contribute to social security (...) This leads to pension gaps and means massive levels of poverty for women. It is essential to tackle this problem at its roots,” said co-rapporteur Maria Lidia Senra Rodríguez (GUE/NGL, ES).

Provide statistics to monitor and improve the situation

MEPs encourage member states to monitor on a regular basis the situation of women in rural areas, and to provide up-to-date statistics on gender pay and pension gaps, women’s labour force participation and women’s farm ownership.

They also call on the Commission to include in its proposals for a future CAP reform an update of sub-programmes intended to help create new jobs for women in rural areas.