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Women, equal opportunities and rural development

Women and rural development The experience of LEADER I


document type: article
keywords: women, equal opportunities
source: LEADER Magazine
last update: 5/96


Since its objective is to promote integrated development involving the whole local community, LEADER does not formally target specific groups, as do certain other Community Initiatives, (e.g. the EMPLOYMENT-Human Resources Initiative). On the other hand, while women are not specifically targeted in LEADER measures, a number of projects do concern them directly. LEADER I is proof of this.

Based on local initiative and mindful of the diversity of social and cultural environments in which LEADER actions are carried out, at European level there is no official reference to equal opportunities between men and women in the LEADER programme. This is perhaps regrettable: when it comes to the social roles accorded to both sexes, rural areas are rather conservative and it must be said that women are often very much in the minority when it comes to representation on boards of management of local action groups (the recent initiative in Ireland, requesting minimum female participation of 40% on boards of management is, however, a notable exception.)

All the same, women are to be found active and in large numbers during all the implementation stages of LEADER: local area analyses undertaken in many LEADER areas, village appraisals in Britain, "village renovation" schemes in Germany, etc. have, in particular, involved women, who are very active at grass-roots level, whether as development officers or project promoters.

In fact, the importance of the role of women in LEADER is evident in the following respects:

  • demographically, women often outnumber men in LEADER areas. This is particularly true in southern Europe - Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Mezzogiorno - where the population drain and emigration of men has been considerable;
  • faced with limited opportunities or keen to have their own source of income, women have ventured into new areas which are often innovative;
  • their role is often crucial in the rural tourism sector, which receives large-scale support under LEADER. We know, for instance, that agri-tourism, based on a willingness to open up to the outside world, as well as a desire for an additional source of income, is usually organised by women;
  • LEADER measures - "exploiting local farm produce"; "support for SMEs and the crafts' sector" - affect a number of women farmers, farmers' wives, with more than one job or who do craftswork.
  • combined with other programmes - e.g. NOW - LEADER actions incorporating training and integration affect, in particular, women who want to set up their own business, go back to work, etc.;
  • the creation of telecentres and other facilities, linked to new information technologies promote teleworking, which can lead to new career opportunities, especially for women.
The following examples present some LEADER I actions which have directly concerned women.
  • Services for women
The isolation and the lack of available services makes a major difference to the quality of life of women living in rural areas. Certain local groups have acted to rectify this situation: in Ireland, the Duhallow group has assisted the setting up of a centre catering for women in the local area. In addition to providing health services, a crèche and training activities, the centre also serves as a meeting place for women enabling them to have contact with other people and increasing their independence.

The fact that the responsibility of looking after the children generally falls to women is a further obstacle that prevents women from working outside the home. This problem is even more acute in rural areas, where crèches and child care facilities are rarely, or possibly never, found in the vicinity.

In the United Kingdom, the South Gwynedd group (Wales) has set up a network of child care centres for a modest fee, in order to facilitate women who wish to return to work.

In Portugal, the Ribatejo Centro group (Lisbon and the Tagus Valley) has provided training for women to organise care facilities and activities for children aged 6-12. Ten jobs have been created in these care centres which are attached to schools, giving mothers more freedom to work.

  • Back to work
One of the first actions of the Antur Teifi group (Wales) involved setting up different types of training for women who wanted to go back to work. In connection with LEADER II, the local action group has provided funding for 3 series of educational radio programmes for women. Equal opportunities, self-confidence, integration into the job market, and involvement in community life, are just some of the messages carried by the programmes that have been broadcasted on the air since October 1995.

The Argyll & the Islands group (Scotland) has provided funding to equip a mobile unit that gives women everywhere in the area the opportunity to take cooking classes, catering especially for women who want to go back to work.

  • Actions for women farmers; new sources of income
LEADER actions which assist diversification of farming and carrying out multiple jobs involve a high proportion of women living in rural areas.

The Lot-et-Garonne group (Aquitaine, France) works in partnership with the Plurielles association, which was set up by women, and which actively supports women farmers who are looking for new sources of income in connection with family-run farms or would like to take up employment outside the farm.

In Ireland the Barrow, Nore, Suir group has provided funding for courses, catering mainly for women farmers, which are intended to lead to commercially viable activities, based on local needs and skills (including traditional lace, organic vegetables, etc.).

The Serras de Montemuro, Arada e Gralheira group (Central Portugal) has run training courses in the areas of farm production, beekeeping, aquaculture, and organic farming, specifically for women. The group has also organised courses on traditional techniques in the manufacture of linen. Following this training, five of the participants set up their own business. A gourmet cooking course also enabled ten young women to branch out on their own.

  • Setting up and running businesses
In the United Kingdom, the Galloway group (Scotland) has designed an advice and assistance programme, which caters in particular for women: "Homebase" turns informal activities into small businesses and cooperatives. Participants are mainly given instruction in how to draw up a business plan. The programme also consists of personal development workshops (building self-confidence, group interaction, etc.). Two cooperatives - one specialising in vegetarian food, the other in the manufacture of chocolate, are now up and running, while 6 of the training course participants are now self-employed in trades such as hosiery and tourism.

An association in the Raia Centro-Sul area (Central Portugal) is organising a course in traditional embroidery. There will be 25 participants on each training course. The objective is to encourage 'home working' and the creation of small production units. This LEADER group has also been involved in the provision of a marketing service for craftspeople and other self-employed workers in the area.

In Italy, the Basilicata Sud-Occidentale group (Basilicata) supports the local area's traditional crafts: ceramics, basketwork, etc. It has, in particular, contributed to the re-establishment and reopening of 12 shops selling craft products. Women are the main beneficiaries in this initiative.

In Spain, the Navarra group (Navarra) has partially funded the modernisation of a women's cooperative specialised in hosiery. The group is also funding training in tapestry (300 hours) for women who are relatively unqualified. Courses in business management complement this training, which sets out to promote self-employment.

The Campo de Calatrava group (Castille-La Mancha) has supported the setting-up of a cooperative to manufacture and market bobbin lace (Encajes de bolillos). This venture which aims, in particular, to provide employment for women aged over 45 and under 25, has already created 6 jobs.

Alcarria Conquense, another LEADER group in Castille-La Mancha, has assisted the setting-up of a craftswomen's association.

Women's cooperatives are both numerous and very active in Greek rural areas: the Chalkidiki group (Central Macedonia) has supported the setting-up of a weavers' cooperative. LEADER has also assisted all the stages of placing products on the market by funding the setting up of a point of sale, publishing promotional brochures and the cooperative's attendance at different fairs and trade exhibitions.

In St-George, a village of the Kozani LEADER area (Western Macedonia), 17 women joined forces to set up a cooperative producing two highly-appreciated regional specialities, but still not readily available on the Greek market: the "pitoura" (a variety of pasta) and the "trachana" (a variety of semolina). The LEADER group has helped construct the premises and purchase the necessary equipment. Furthermore, the group has also set up a centre for advice and technical assistance for companies and women's cooperatives.

In the Meteores region, the Kalabaka-Pyli group (Thessaly) has assisted the setting-up of a women's cooperative specialised in packaging and marketing medicinal plants, grown in the mountains.

Staying in Thessaly, the Elassona group has assisted craftspeople who make folkloric costumes and "kilims"(highly-renowned woven carpets). The LEADER action has lead to the modernisation of this traditional craft and has assisted the marketing of products.

The Evros group (Eastern Macedonia) has participated in setting up a "Centre for Crafts and Home Working". Run by a women's cooperative, this aims to encourage local craft production and ongoing training of women in the area.


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