Sexism row as men-only farmers' group Lads refuses to admit women

Sexism row as men-only farmers’ group called Lads refuses to admit women because male agriculture workers need a safe space to discuss mental health

  • The Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society (Lads) voted on Wednesday April 6
  • Of the members present, about 90 per cent voted to keep barring females
  • Lisa Edwards, a farmer who chairs the NFU in Lancashire, lashed out on Twitter

A sexism row has erupted after a men-only farmers’ group in Liverpool refused to let women join.

The Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society (Lads), founded in 1928, voted to continue banning females from attending their meetings on Wednesday April 6 arguing that they needed a safe space to discuss their mental health.

Members were asked to ditch the clause in their rulebook which states: ‘Membership shall be open to men actively engaged in agriculture and its associated activities, and men, who in the opinion of the committee would be an asset to the society’.

When a motion to allow women into the society was put to the vote, between 60 and 70 members – about 90 per cent of those present – voted to keep barring them.

Lisa Edwards, an arable farmer who chairs the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in Lancashire, lashed out on Twitter.

She wrote: ‘Very sad that Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society voted to retain ban on women attending.

‘Even in 2022 women in ag still face barriers to networking and learning in their local farming community. #discrimination #timeforchange.’

The foundations for Lads – originally known as Liverpool and District Junior Farmers Club – were laid at a meeting at 30 Great Homer Street in Liverpool on 20 February 1928

Mrs Edwards, who farms 900 acres of cereal crops and potatoes in Merseyside, also told The Telegraph: ‘If they want to run a farm they should have equal opportunities. They shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their sex.

‘Networking is so important, especially at the start of your career, and we wanted to make sure women coming into the industry would have that opportunity to network with other young farmers. 

‘We thought they would vote to have women at least as guests, as a compromise. I didn’t expect it to be 90 per cent against.’

Mrs Edwards’ tweet attracted a mixed response, with ‘regenerative farmer’ Anna Jackson saying ‘I feel like a protest at their town hall where they meet would be very do-able.’

Rachel Addyman said that her first reaction was ‘what the heck?’. But when she started to think about all the female-only ag groups, she asked herself ‘Is it so wrong?’

‘TBH it’s one of the reasons I’ve not joined Women in Dairy, although I am in Yorkshire Women in Farming. We could be in danger of having double standards,’ she tweeted.

Lisa Edwards, an arable farmer who chairs the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in Lancashire, lashed out on Twitter

Lads member Olly Harrison, a Merseyside arable farmer who was not at Wednesday’s meeting and so did not take part in the vote, rejected any suggestions that the group was discriminatory.

‘Having heard a presentation from the guy that started Andy’s Man Club, who, like myself, lost a friend through depression, I believe the stigma around mental health is still quite strong.

‘To discourage a club which is already set up and is exclusively for men would not be right, especially as other people are trying to set them up.

‘The society meets six or seven times a year. I believe it is a good support network for males who often work in an isolated industry.

She wrote: ‘Very sad that Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society voted to retain ban on women attending’

‘I don’t think that the institute is outdated, but maybe its name is outdated.

‘Within the region, there are lots of opportunities for agriculture-based learning and topics provided by AHDB (the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) or NFU.

‘There are also plenty of opportunities for female-only clubs such as Lady Farmers, the Women’s Institute, Ladies in Beef and Ladies in Pigs.’

Farmers Weekly quoted one society member, who did not want to be named, as saying ‘Rightly or wrongly, it is a meeting place for men’s support.

Mrs Edwards’ tweet attracted a mixed response, with ‘regenerative farmer’ Anna Jackson saying ‘I feel like a protest at their town hall where they meet would be very do-able’

‘It has been going since the 1920s and the rules state that attendees should wear a jacket and tie.

‘The society meets around six to seven times a year. It’s a focal point to meet up.

‘If anything, the society name is no longer relevant and it should be changed, rather than the rules.’

There has been growing concern in recent years at the high suicide rate among farmers, who have had a tough time with rising prices and lower incomes from milk and other produce.

Rachel Addyman said that her first reaction was ‘what the heck?’. But when she started to think about all the female-only ag groups, she asked herself ‘Is it so wrong?’

Experts say farmers and their workers often suffer mental health issues from having to work alone, day in and day out.

The foundations for Lads – originally known as Liverpool and District Junior Farmers Club – were laid at a meeting at 30 Great Homer Street in Liverpool on 20 February 1928, when the motion, ‘That a young farmers club be formed’ was agreed.

The prime mover in forming a club for the young farmers was Mr Frank Jones. The website for Lads says the president is the Earl of Derby. 

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