75th Anniversary: 19) The Boerinnengroep Wageningen: looking back

In the 1977, we, a group of women students and graduates, mostly in Rural Sociology, founded the so-called ‘Boerinnengroep’, which translates as ‘farm women’s group’[1]. The Boerinnengroep has contributed to new agendas of farmer and rural women’s organisations, agricultural policy and academia. It has also put, in a way, a strong imprint on our lives and careers. In this blog we look back.

Why did we establish this group?

We had joined the ‘Boerengroep’ (Farmers’ Group). This Boerengroep of (former) students and graduates engaged with Dutch farmers and developed a radical critique on agricultural and rural policies and practices. However, inspired by the upcoming second feminist wave, we soon realized the male biases in this group and in the agricultural world as a whole. Farm women (in those days predominantly farmers’ wives) were invisible: their domestic labour and their work on the farm were, at best, represented as unpaid ‘family labour’ in the statistics. Farm succession through the male line was the norm and the men decided about “their” farm. Women’s legal position was very weak. Women were neither represented nor participating in interest groups and unions, and set aside in rural women’s organisations that focused on their role as mother and housewife. In science too, the very few existing studies reinforced the traditional stereotype. That means that when a woman marries with a farmer, she is expected to run the household and to ‘help out’ on the farm, whenever necessary (e.g., Saal, 1958; Stork van der Kuyl 1952)[2]. We found this a ludicrous situation. Together with progressive farm women, we took action.

How did we operate?

As enthusiast social activists, we initiated action research, together with farm women, on the gender division of labour, definition of work, and legal position of farm wives on the farm and on women’s participation and decision-making in the agricultural organisations and policies, Action and research went together and evolved into evidence-based policy advocacy. This entailed a range of activities. We voiced our feminist views within the Boerengroep. We facilitated discussions in farmer organisations and rural women organisations. We published in the journal of the Boerengroep (‘Nieuwsbrief’ and later ‘Landbouwmaand’) and in other journals (e.g., Opzij, Spil). And we initiated feminist research at Wageningen university.

“Provoking Debate”: news coverage of the documentary film “Als je met een boer trouwt” (When you marry a farmer)

In 1980 we launched our documentary film (“Als je met een boer trouwt”[3]), made in cooperation with the film collective ’De Rode Lantaarn’. In the film four different women talk about their lives, ambitions and challenges they experience: a ‘traditional’ farmer’s wife who assists in the farm besides running the household; a farmer’s wife who continues her own job and does not want to do anything on her husband’s farm; a farmer’s wife who takes up her own job outside the farm to add to the limited income from the farm; and a young woman wanting to become independent farmer. In-between the interviews a funny act highlights how the mother-in-law who lives with the young couple keeps a close eye on her daughter-in-law. In another act, the farmer’s wife runs around the whole day to finish fragmented tasks without any moment of rest, but closing her day: “Again, I did not do anything today”. Invited by organisations of rural women, farmers and young farmers, we showed the film over two hundred times all over the country. The film provoked vivid and sometimes emotional discussions. Opinions were strongest, either fully supporting or deeply disapproving, about the ‘traditional’ woman who dared to tell in the film she was not happy. Many of the issues raised remain relevant till today.

Farm women also started to organise around these issues. In 1983, they initiated the ‘Landelijke Boerinnen Belangen’ (LBB – National Farm Women Interests)[4]. The Boerinnengroep supported them in joint events and spread their views, for example in the Landbouwmaand.

We also initiated research. Our first research on the work of women in farms was inspired by the discussions we had after the film. In three different places in The Netherlands we asked farm women to write down everything they did and the time it took per day during a week. This was an eye-opener not only for us but also for the women themselves. Most of the women were not aware of the amount of work they did on the farm and in the household, mostly invisible and always unpaid work. Moreover, work and investments for the farm had always the priority, the household came always later: ‘Achter gaat voor[5](‘The farm first’).

This study formed the basis of a big nation-wide formal research project[6] at the Agricultural Economic Institute (LEI), currently known as Wageningen Economic Research. As farm women commented: ‘If even this formal institute says that farm women work long hours, it must be true’.

Further research also unraveled women’s exclusion from on-farm decision-making and discriminatory marriage conditions. Divorced farm women could end up without any income and assets. We also encouraged women to keep or take a self-chosen   paid job outside the farm, or to develop their own farm branch or side-activities within the farm, or to become the successor of the farm for economic independence.

Our theoretical inspiration was, broadly speaking, socialist-feminist. We identified patriarchic capitalism as the root cause of women’s oppression. The exploitation of women’s household labour and of farm women’s and men’s agricultural labour in the contemporary political economy of agriculture should end. These angles aligned, for example, with the feminist Marxist scholars of the Bielefelder Schule.  . 

What did we achieve?

We have to be modest of course, but our activities undoubtedly triggered discussions about traditional gender roles in farming. Our action research and supportive activities contributed to the growing awareness among farm women and others about women’s position in the farm and in the organisations and institutions linked to the agricultural sector, for example the rural women organisations (catholic KPO, protestant CPB, and neutral NBvP) and rural youth organisations (NAJK), but also the Central Bureau for Statistics and the above-mentioned Agricultural Economic Institute (LEI), and policy makers. It contributed to the process of farm women’s empowerment. Initially, this process focused on the recognition of their involvement in the farm as work, on active engagement in on-farm decision making, on the sometimes difficult combination of farm work and taking care of family and household, and on the strengthening of their legal position. Farm women also wanted access to and increased participation in farmer’s organisations and to broaden the agenda of their own rural women’s organisations. In the course of time, and stimulated by the beliefs and activities of the women’s movement in general, farm women further claimed their economic power within or outside the farm, to become the successor of the farm and/or to get a leadership position within agricultural and rural policies and politics. In this way, women farmers introduced gender issues and other new perspectives into Dutch and European agrarian and rural politics.

The changing views about gender relations, including on the farm and in rural areas, also influenced science. Academic agendas gradually changed. Our action research contributed to Wageningen University slowly paying more attention to women farmers, for example by the establishment of the independent Department of Women’s Studies in Agriculture and Rural Development in 1990. Rural women’s empowerment, inclusion and intersectionalities became important concepts in research and policy design.

What did it mean for ourselves?

Experiences in the Boerinnengroep influenced our lives ever thereafter. Some of us went on to facilitate and support agrarian commissions of rural women’s organisations[7], or to work with women and young farmers in farmers’ organisations and within governmental organisations[8]. We became part of global gender alliances. For example, together with Dutch rural women’s organisations we advocated for the recognition of women’s labour at the international Women’s Conference in Nairobi, 1985[9].

Others continued Ph.D. and other research about women’s domestic and farm labour and intra-household gender relations in Netherlands[10][11][12] or farmers’ cooperation[13]. Two expanded into international NGOs and fair trade relations[14] or comparative action research in the global South[15]. And one of us became farmer herself.

Sabine, Connie, Trudy and Barbara, co-founders of the Boerinnengroep


[1] Later on the name changed into “Werkgroep Vrouwen in de Landbouw’, Wageningen

[2]-Stork-van der Kuyl , D.M.E.A.J.  (1952) De Drentse Boerin; haar plaats in de samenleving. Van Gorcum, Assen.

– Saal, C.D.  (1958) Het Boerengezin in Nederland. Van Gorcum, Assen.

[3] A copy of the film is available on request

[4] See also: Storm, Dagmar and Margreet van der Burg. 2011. In de voetsporen van de kritische boerin 25 jaar Landelijke Boerinnen Belangen, 1983-2008. Rapportnummer 278, april 2011. Wageningen UR Wetenschapswinkel. https://edepot.wur.nl/166548

[5] Litjens, Maria, Trudy Loeffen and Connie Valkhoff. 1979. Boerengroep Wageningen. Available upon request.

[6] Loeffen, G.M.J. 1984 Boerinnen en tuindersvrouwen in Nederland. Publicatie nr 2.186 Landbouw  Economisch Institute https://edepot.wur.nl/261435

[7] Berger, B  (1986) ‘Beroepsstatus Europese boerinnen afgewezen’. Ons Platteland. 28 juni 1986 p. 10

[8] Huijbregts,  Mique, Theo Janssen, Jaap Ekkes en Dineke van Zwieten (eds.)  (2001) Buitengewoon, Diversiteit en Emancipatie op het platteland. Ministerie van LNV, Den Haag.

[9] Berger, B  (1985) Vrouwen uit ontwikkelingslanden lieten hun stem horen. Boerderij  70 (1985)  – no.46 (14 aug)

[10] – de Rooij, S. (1992) Werk van de tweede soort. Boerinnen in de melkveehouderij (Work of the second order. Farm women in dairy farming). Van Gorcum, Assen/ Maastr­icht. (PhD-thesis).

One of her other publications on this issue:

– de Rooij, S. (2005) Institutional Capacity Building for Rural Women’s Empowerment. Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities. Volume 8, Issue 3, 2005, Topic Economics. http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume8/issue3/art-30.html

[11] Jansen, M., T. Lodder, G. Overbeek, M. Scheepstra, K. Termeer, (1985) Geen rek maar plek. Landbouwbeleid voor vrouwen, Boerinnengroep Wageningen.

– Overbeek, M.M.M.  (1993) Man/vrouw – maatschap beslist goed? : vrouwen in de samenwerking op het agrarisch bedrijf. LEI, Den Haag.

[12] Loeffen, G.M.J. (1984) Boerinnen en tuindersvrouwen in Nederland . Den Haag, Landbouw-Economisch Instituut.

[13] – Litjens, M. (2018) Producenten Organisatie als erkend kartel. Ruimte voor samenwerking in de landbouw. PhD,  ISBN 978-94-034-0957-3

[14] Valkhoff, Connie (2011) Van Dambadeniya naar Cochabamba, Reizen met Fair Trade. De digitale drukker, Eindhoven.

[15] van Koppen, B. (1998). More Jobs per Drop: Targeting Irrigation to Poor Women and Men. PhD thesis, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Further publications: https://scholar.google.nl/citations?user=qsDpwiYAAAAJ&hl=en

1 thought on “75th Anniversary: 19) The Boerinnengroep Wageningen: looking back

  1. In 1992 deed ik mijn afstudeeronderzoek in opdracht van de Boerinnengroep naar zelfstandige boerinnen in Gelderland. Dat was erg leuk en inspirerend om te doen. Ik kwam op boerderijen in heel de provincie. Grote melkveebedrijven, en akkerbouwbedrijven, naar ook geitenhouderijen en kleine biologische bedrijfjes. Allemaal gerund door vrouwen die losbraken uit de traditionele rol van helpende en onzichtbare boerin, maar die zichtbaar aan het hoofd van het bedrijf zaten en daarmee nieuwe genderrollen definieerden voor zichzelf.
    Ik ben de Boerinnengroep dankbaar voor de kans en ondersteuning die ze me indertijd boden.

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