Topic: Providing childcare services as a driver of socio-cultural changes for women farmers – A case study of social farming in South Tyrol, Italy
Keywords: social farming, South Tyrol, women in agriculture, female entrepreneurship
In recent years, the provision of social services on the farm developed into an opportunity for income diversification in the South Tyrolean agricultural sector (Hoffmann and Streifeneder, 2013). In the past, especially women farmers had little access to financial resources. In comparison to male farmers, their possibilities to earn a personal income and to create their own field of action on the farm were limited. At the same time, the provision of childcare services in remote rural areas was insufficient. Consequently, in 2006, some South Tyrolean women farmers founded a social cooperative and started to offer childcare services on their farms. Today, the social cooperative “Learning, growing, living with women farmers” has more than 100 female members. As a case study of social innovation of the H2020 project SIMRA, the social cooperative stands at the focus of our investigation.
Starting from rural gender studies (Little and Morris, 2005; Buller and Hoggart, 2004) and women empowerment-literature (Kabeer, 1999; Alkire et al., 2013; Wright and Annes, 2016), we hypothesize female entrepreneurship to promote a more balanced power structure between men and women in agriculture and to enhance the improvement of women farmers’ social status in the rural context. By increasing their access to resources and improving their agency, having an on-farm business opens the possibility for achieving a valuable way of being and doing. Accordingly, this study investigates the recognized effects and outcomes that the activity as childminder on the farm had on women farmers´ working and living conditions.
We applied a qualitative approach, interviewing 7 women farmers that provide childcare services. Additionally, we interviewed 4 experts. The structuring content analysis of the interviews, characterized by a mix of deductive and inductive category building, resulted in 2 domains of motivations and 15 domains of effects. The results of the data analysis showed that the provision of childcare services enhanced the autonomy of women farmers and had positive impacts on their skills and competences. This activity changed their social role in the community by revalorizing rural lifestyles and by enabling the reconciliation of work and life for working mothers. Nevertheless, women farmers recognized both positive and negative effects on their own workload, on their interfamilial- and other social relations. Furthermore, the results of our study suggest that the perceived effects of childcare provision on women farmers’ working and living conditions depend on their former situation as on- or off- farm employee.