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The future of rural lies in the hands of women

BLOG – 12/07/2022
by Dolores Pena and Isolina Rodríguez (Galician MAP) & USC team

Galicia’s rural areas have very low population densities, aggravated by a dispersed habitat and increasingly marked ageing. It is also an area where the fertility rate is very low and the emigration of young people, especially women, continues to empty even the most demographically deteriorated areas.

It seems that Galician rural areas are a hostile place for young people and, especially, for women. But what lies underneath this image? What makes women leave and why is the fertility rate lower in rural areas than in urban areas? Everything suggests that there are specific factors that discourage women’s decision to stay in rural areas and to have children.

Statistical data confirms the reduced employment opportunities for women. However, the three years of work with the Galician MAP have showed us that it is not only a lower access to employment that determines women to leave rural areas. There are several elements that explain this situation: the high dispersion of the population which conditions the social structures, the lack of services and, of course, a lower access to employment. However, throughout the different meetings, the MAP members have highlighted as a more predominant factor the persistence in rural areas of a traditional view of the role of women. This is a role that overburdens them with care work and subjects them to a higher level of social control than men of their own age.

Throughout the almost three cycles of work that we have carried out within SHERPA, the difficulties encountered by women who decided to stay in rural areas have been recurrently discussed in meetings. The Galician MAP members has pointed out that “rural areas cannot move forward while leaving women behind”. For this reason, we included, among the relevant objectives for rural development, the need to promote and recognise the role of women and the urgency of designing effective measures to enable family reconciliation, considering this an essential element to counter depopulation.

“The emigration of young women is a reality. Young women leave because they are fleeing a situation of social control that forces them to take responsibility for the care of the elderly and children and, at the same time, expels them from the spheres of socialisation”.

Isolina Rodríguez, Rural Development Centre “Os Ancares”

And although the Galician MAP is calling for public actions to enable work-life balance and offer job opportunities to women, MAP members have also put forward proposals that have to do with the need to overcome traditional gender roles as a crucial aspect needed for rural areas to move towards the desired rural.

“The historical role of women in households and in rural areas is an element that fuels depopulation”.

Dolores Pena, AFIPRODEL (Finisterrae, Association of Local Development Practitioners)

The need for women’s empowerment has also come up on several occasions. In this regard, we find it particularly interesting to highlight the presentation at the June 2022 meeting of a heritage recovery project led and implemented almost entirely by women. One of their promoters stressed that it also served to demonstrate to the women participants, and to the community, that women are capable and that they are able to show it.

“We show the men that we also serve to take things forward”.

Isolina Rodríguez, Rural Development Centre “Os Ancares”

“For something to work in rural areas, you have to seduce women. They are very reliable; they are always the first to move”.

Isolina Rodríguez, Rural Development Centre “Os Ancares”

We conclude by highlighting that the MAP considers that care work in such an ageing area as Galicia is a great opportunity for job creation. That is, as long as we are able, as a society, to make this work visible and remunerated. In other words, as long as we stop considering care work as a free job carried out exclusively by women, and if it is at least partially integrated into the labour market. And in relation to this issue, at the June 2022 meeting, the difficulties that exist in integrating men into these care tasks were also pointed out. These difficulties are twofold: on the one hand, few men are willing to carry out care work, even if it is paid; and on the other hand, a few families are willing to involve men in carrying out these types of tasks.

“When occupational training courses on care work are provided, very few men enrol. But the technical staff also have problems in incorporating these trained men into the households”.

Dolores Pena, AFIPRODEL

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