The Gleaner
Agriculture

Women farmers are often “invisible workers”: conference

On March 24, 2021, Les Agricultrices du Québec hosted a free virtual conference on the topics of family law and “invisible work” in agriculture. The goal was to bring awareness to women farmers of their rights, recourses, and measures that exist to protect them and ensure their financial autonomy. A conference was held in every region across the province; in the Montérégie-Ouest, women farmers were given the opportunity to connect with Catherine Bergeron, a lawyer from the firm of Cain Lamarre.

Bergeron gave a presentation on “invisible work” – work that is unpaid and unacknowledged – in the farming community. She also discussed parenthood and the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan, wills and mandates, and specifics concerning common-law spouses. In Quebec, one third of women farmers work on their spouse’s farms, both full-time and part-time, without any salary or compensation. These circumstances make these women much more vulnerable in the face of the law regarding their financial autonomy.

Sylvie Décosse, administrator at Agricultrices de la Montérégie-Ouest and representative at the local union of the Haut-Saint-Laurent UPA, attended the event and spoke afterwards about its success, noting that both women and men took part. When asked what she believed was the most pressing issue facing women farmers in our region, she spoke about work-family balance, mentioning how the pandemic has only made this issue worse. “The pandemic that we’ve been living through for over a year has only increased the mental load on women, which has increased stress and affected their mental health,” she says. In fact, several studies have shown that the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities across all fields. According to the most recent job numbers from statistics Canada, as of the end of January Canada’s economy had 858,000 fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic, and women are bearing the brunt of the effects of those losses.

Women farmers are in a unique position in this situation, as they are often the primary caretakers of their family and home while also having jobs that don’t guarantee payment. “[This] mental burden on women has had the effect of reducing their professional involvement within their business. [Now] is a good opportunity to learn about these themes, in order to mitigate the negative impacts of invisible work,” says Mélanie Dinelle, president of Agricultrices de la Montérégie Ouest, in a press release about the conference.

Les Agricultrices de la Montérégie Ouest is currently celebrating its 29th year of existence. On top of facilitating information sessions for women farmers, the organization has created a community for them to come together and talk about these issues. Décosse mentions that a great way for people to help with their mission is to get involved. “[We] organize activities for our members throughout the year, such as training, conferences, agritourism outings, farm visits,” she says. The organization also hosts an annual Gala to honor women farmers, as well as an annual general meeting. “All these events would not be possible without sponsors from the region who recognize women’s work,” says Décosse.

Those interested can follow the work and activities of Agricultrices Montérégie Ouest on the website: www.agricultrices.com, or on the Facebook page: Les Agricultrices de la Montérégie Ouest. The organization has also started a newsletter to keep members and others informed about news, training, and updates in the agricultural sector. To sign up, go to the following link: www.facebook.com/agricultricesmonteregieouest/app/100265896690345.

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