Rural women in Europe: invest in the vitality of rural areas to improve their position

The report ‘Personal and social development of women in rural areas of Europe’, prepared for the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, provides an overview of the social situation of women in the rural areas of Europe. It looks into rural women’s work, political participation and their experience of the quality of life in rural areas. It points at the great diversity between and within Member States but also states that there is no evidence of a general rural disadvantage. Women experience specific problems only in the peripheral rural regions of Europe and in particular the Central-Eastern Member States. These areas are maladapted to women’s needs in terms of employment and services, as well as cultural norms and values. It is also in those areas that young rural women (and men) decide to leave and to search for a better life elsewhere.

Analysis of rural development policies reveals that women seldom participate in the formation of rural development plans or the decision making on the distribution of funds. There are some projects designed for women often focusing on self-employment. There are also some projects aimed at improving the supply of social services. Most projects are fragmented attempts to solve some problems for some women. A coherent plan on how to address gender equality is lacking. 

To improve the situation of rural women it is recommended to focus on the situation in the peripheral rural areas where the low quality of life and lack of work, income and services constraints women’s development and perpetuates unequal gender relations. It is important to invest in the vitality and quality of life of those areas and to improve their accessibility. Upgrading the local quality of life may convince rural women (and men) to stay. It may also help to mobilize individual and collective action for local development.

Wichterwest: A network meeting with gains for everybody

Yesterday, I – together with 66 rural business women- attended a meeting of the rural women’s business network ‘Wichterwest’ at Restaurant Samiramis in Grootegast.

 The establishment of women business networks was initiated by Groningen Province in an attempt to stimulate networking amongst rural business women in the province. Today, each region within Groningen province has a rural women’s network. In the Western region of Groningen province (a.k.a. Westerkwartier) the network is called ‘Wichterwest’ and is organised by the project leader ‘Vereiniging Groningen Dorpen.

 ‘Wichterwest’ acts as a platform for business women to network, to exchange ideas and to receive information about business. The organisers also arrange offers for business courses and trainings. For example, the organisers are arranging a new training programme which will focus on three different business aspects: a) business start-ups, b) business management and c) market/ marketing strategies. To respond to the great interest of business women in the network and to accommodate its growing number of participants, the organisers are now considering options to set up a foundation with the aim to increase income and offers.

 Yesterday’s meeting started with a speed dating session in which everybody got to know the fellow participants and their businesses. I was impressed by the variety of activities carried out by the women of the Westerkwartier. For example, I met a photographer, a Bed & Breakfast owner, an administrator, a clothes designer, several advisors, an interior designer and the owner of an online farm shop for regional products. The evening proceeded with an exercise to practice efficient networking skills and a delicious three course menu made of organic products produced in the Westerkwartier. Filled with food, excitement rose as the winners of a lottery game were announced. Each business woman was asked to bring a gift made by her company. By winning vouchers for advice, massage and acupuncture sessions, bags of sheep wool and cushions for man and beast, everybody was able to get an impression of the variety of products offered by business women in the Westerkwartier. The evening was completed with three different workshops concerning a) optimal business plans, b) press releases and c) the importance of the entrepreneur for making business.

Even though I am not a business women myself, I returned home filled with positive impressions regarding the innovative spirit and versatility of business women in the Westerkwartier- and a business arrangement made during the networking game- let me recall, I said I was not a business women?