Spanish women pastoralists' pathways into livestock management: Motivations, challenges and learning
Rural studies has made considerable theoretical and empirical progress on gender and agriculture, yet almost none of this work focuses specifically on women involved in livestock production in the Global North. To address this gap, we explored the experiences of women involved in extensive livestock farming in Spain, including their motivations, identities, challenges, and sources of learning and support. Using a life-history approach, we interviewed 29 women across four regions of Spain and conducted follow-up participatory workshops in three regions. We investigated how women enter the extensive livestock sector, learn the occupation and business of livestock husbandry, and their experiences of power relations and discrimination, then interpreted our findings through the lens of Feminist Agrifood Systems Theory (FAST). Women's narratives reveal three primary pathways into livestock management: via family, via a partner/spouse, and from zero. Although interviewees shared common experiences and struggles, each pathway is associated with distinct motivations, challenges, and sources of learning. This variety of goals and experiences disrupts stereotypes about women's roles in extensive pastoralism and points to the need for outreach and policy grounded in the diverse realities of women's lived experiences. Our results underscore the obstacles pastoralist women face in gaining and maintaining economic and decision-making autonomy. Our findings partially support all FAST propositions, yet highlight continuing challenges for Spanish women entering a historically male-dominated sector. In the Spanish context, we found strongest support for FAST propositions 5 and 6, which posit that women must carefully navigate agricultural institutions, often encountering exclusion and discrimination, and that women create their own networks to address their specific needs and advance agroecology and rural sustainability. Increased training for officials overseeing new enterprise incorporations, and investment in women's networks could reduce institutional bias and increase support for women operators.