We spoke to seven trailblazing women – Asma Khan, Vandana Shiva, Helen Browning, Caroline Bennett, Dee Woods, Alice Robinson and Sarah Grady – who are each pushing sustainability, regeneration and ethics forwards within their industries and making space for other women to do so, too.
We find out how their work is changing the face of the industry and women’s place in it, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and what more there is to be done…
Helen Browning‘s story
But since 2016, she’s been expanding her organic farming practices to include agroforestry, the practice of including trees and shrubs on farms where crops are also grown in a bid to increase biodiversity as well as improve the crops.
It’s a growing movement worldwide, and Helen is at the forefront.
“All throughout my farming career, I’ve tried to be different,” she says. “I was a novelty in my 20s, as a female farmer. Not only that, I was going organic and on tenanted land – so I had to make a profit, and at scale,” Helen says.
“If I was discriminated against it was more because I was organic or had ‘weird ideas’ than because I am a woman. I was a curiosity early on. But in some ways being a woman led to more opportunities on farming boards, even 30 years ago, I had lots of opportunities. In most ways it’s been an advantage rather than a disadvantage.”
But that doesn’t mean she thinks there’s not more to be done in this space. “I would still encourage fathers to think of their daughters when it comes to the farm,” she says, as traditionally it’s the oldest son/only son who takes it over, while women are still typically overlooked.
Taking over her father’s farm aged just 24, Helen was inspired to follow a farming career by her great aunt who also farmed. During the Second World War, lots of women took over roles that were previously held by men. Along with three other women, her great aunt worked the farmland, where they all successfully used their different skills to keep it going. “They looked like they were having enormous fun going hunting and drinking whisky. They led very independent lives as women, when others were still very much constrained,” Helen explains.
Although women have always had their place working on the farm, it’s often tended not to be as farm managers. “I’d like to see more women able to make a professional career out of farm management,” she says.
Luckily for Helen, her daughter has even followed in her farming footsteps too, on her own accord. Helen said she was “thrilled when she showed an interest”. And so, the tradition continues…
International Women’s Day, marked annually on 8 March, celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, across the globe, who are dismantling discrimination, driving equal opportunities and empowering women and girls.