Empowering women in agriculture: Australia and beyond

27 Jan 2015

This report argues that Australia is lagging behind the rest of the developed world in empowering rural women.


Globally, women are not sufficiently recognised for their contributions to farming. Women play a key role in the global rural workforce, comprising nearly halfof all agricultural workers. They contribute to on-farm work as managers, paid farm workers, unpaid domestic workers and also sustain rural communities through off-farm work and community participation.

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the developed world in empowering rural women. Despite being highly developed in many areas, the face of Australian agriculture is still that of the middle-aged white male. Women are under-represented in agricultural politics and the decision-making processes of farm organisations.

This is not merely a gender equity issue. The Australian agricultural sector faces challenges from environmental change and a competitive global market. Women make up half of the rural workforce; consequently their lack of influence denies the sector half the potential of its workforce. Australia needs to both empower women and radically change the way that agriculture is portrayed here, to encourage more young women to see agriculture as a viable career path.

Key points

  • Women make up approximately half of the international agricultural workforce, but exercise significantly less power in the sector than men.
  • Reducing the “gender gap” in agriculture is recognised as a way to considerably increase food security. Women’s empowerment is currently a dominant theme in international development campaigns.
  • The Australian agricultural industry is heavily dependent on women’s off-farm work, much of which goes unrecognised. Rural decision-making bodies do not adequately represent women.
  • Progress on women’s empowerment was made in the 1990s via the “women in agriculture” movement. Since then, however, momentum has declined and little progress has been made in the last decade.
  • Agricultural policy must be reframed to encourage women’s active engagement in agricultural policy and practice. Failure to do so not only creates gender inequity, but also limits the potential of half of Australia’s rural workforce.


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