This two year project funded through Grundgtvig Lifelong Learning was to look at the issues that face women finding employment or setting up their own business in rural areas. The project partners from Spain, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Germany, Cyprus and the UK took part in study visits hosted in each of their regions to explore the common issues facing women seeking employment in rural areas, how the problems had been addressed in each region and to share best practice that could be transferred to other regions.
The first meeting in Cyprus identified some of the key issues facing women in the partner regions and the visits which took place over the two year project gave partners the opportunity to meet women in each area to understand their problems, to consider what support they had received to address the various problems women faced finding employment.
In Northern Ireland, women in rural areas are isolated and need for support and training to create employment. Young women leave the rural areas to live in larger cities to find work but when they have children they like to return to their home town or village to raise families. Many women set up their own business using the skills they developed while employed to create work for themselves in the rural area that fits around family life. This entrepreneurship is a source of innovation to the local community. Women are offered training to develop new skills and to set up business but most of the training takes place in larger towns and cities which means women have to travel longer journeys which takes time and can be costly. They also lack ongoing support outside the training.
In Poland women find it difficult to return to work after they give birth because there is limited infrastructure in rural areas for childcare. It is costly to leave your child in a kindergarten as salaries are very low. The high cost of childcare and low income prevents many women from working once they have children or if they are working the cost of raising children prevents them from starting a family. In addition, the attitude of women and wider society is also another factor since they believe that after birth women should dedicate themselves mainly to childcare and raising their familes.
In Cyprus there are also several initiatives to support and train women to create employment in rural areas but sometimes are more general in nature. For example, there are many day centers for the elderly where they can spend their time constructively which is mixed, which creates a lot of employment for women as the care is generally provided by women in these centres. Moreover, there are also a range of programs such as Women’s entrepreneurship which funds with 50% the start up of businesses of women to help women set up work that will fit around family life.
In Hungary, there are also similar projects of entrepreneurship which they help women to set up their own business. While these programmes cover some basic set up costs many of the women have to self finance using family support. The issue of women self financing their business was similar across all the partner regions. Many women began their business as a small table top business which they run from their homes and grew the business slowly to take on more work as they gained more free time when children started school. Because the businesses were small and home run the women covered the set up costs themselves rather than seeking funding which often meant a lot of paper work and legislation. In Hungary, most of the problems regarding maternity leave, day centers, opportunities and obstacles are similar as in the rest of the countries.
Spain faced very similar problems with young people leaving the rural areas to work or to continue their education leaving an older community. As many of their friends were in the larger cities there was little incentive for young women to return to the rural areas which lacked many of the facilities they were used to in the city. Although women still liked to return to their family areas to raise families they tended not to work because of lack of suitable childcare and the tradition that women stayed at home to raise their family.
The situation of women in Germany was slightly different in that they did have support to help them to set up businesses based around their skills. Although there was a good system of childcare it was not to be affordable to support women either return to work or set up their own business. When women returned to work after having children they tended to work part time rather than full time which made working economically unviable once the cost of childcare had been taken into account. Most women opted to work part time since it is difficult to find work that is flexible to fit around family responsibilities which is generally the role of the women in the family.
Heather McLaughlin, Europe Direct Northern Ireland is the UK partner and nearing the end of the project identified that it was clear that each area had a different approach to similar problems. The women who had the opportunity to take part in the study visits were motivated and inspired by what they saw other women achieve in their regions. Sharing best practice helped participants to think about their problems in a different way to come up with innovative solutions for their region which had been tried and tested by women in other areas. The visit gave women the opportunity to meet and learn from women in other regions who could then keep in touch after the visits to mentor and support each other.
The visit to Northern Ireland in June 2014 highlighted to the women from other regions that although women in this area faced the same issues of lack of employment the women had responded to the problem by setting up their own business to create employment for themselves. The women entrepreneurs used their existing skills to create home based employment. Their skills included a range from creative crafts to professional services. Most of the women were sole entrepreneurs so it was important for them to have an opportunity to network to support each other to share difficulties and to promote each others business and collaborate where possible. The women of the region had set up a network for women entrepreneurs called ‘Network for Enterprising Women’ which provided a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs to meet, network and support each other. The other difference which was highlighted between women entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland and the other regions was the use of digital media to promote businesses. Many of the women entrepreneurs used Facebook, Twitter and Blogs to promote their business much more than in other regions where digital media was rarely used.
Meetings and visits to the regions of project partners took place on the following dates. Information, pictures and video links are included in each report:
Spain 9 – 13 October 2014 Spain
Cyprus 6 – 9 February 2014 Cyprus
N Ireland 4 – 8 June 2014 N Ireland
Hungary 1 – 4 August 2014 Hungary
Turkey 9 – 13 October 2014 Turkey
Germany 10 – 14 December 2014 Germany
Cyprus 29 – 31 March 2015 Cyprus
Poland 19 – 22 June 2015 Poland