New School in Spain Trains Female Shepherds

This is part of a plan to revive rural villages.

Woman shepherd with flock of sheep.

(PicksArt / Shutteerstock.com)

When most think about shepherds herding a flock of sheep, they usually think of men or boys. That's because they have typically been the domain of men but that is changing. A new school to train women to be shepherds is opening in Spain.

The aim for the Escuela de pastoras del siglo XXI (School for Shepherdesses of the 21st Century) isn't just about gender equality by giving women a foothold in a job that has been traditionally held by men, it is also about reviving the Spanish countryside.

Thousands of small Spanish towns are becoming depopulated as more and more younger people are leaving and going to the cities, according to The Guardian. Women have been abandoning the countryside in greater numbers than men and the population is aging.

Many villages have been trying to attract new residents with perks like inexpensive land and babysitters but few of the initiatives focused solely on women. This one is different. By offering women employment, it could convince them to stay or move back to rural areas if they already live in cities, according to Malay Mail.

The new school is a project of the Spanish Association Against Depopulation, a national organization that is trying to reverse this trend and help areas where the population is declining. “Villages are being masculinized,” Susana Pacheco, the organizer of the new school told The Guardian. “It’s a step backwards.”

While there are other shepherd schools that accept women, the new school is different because it is being run through a women's perspective, according to Pacheco. " That’s why we’re talking about work-life balance, creating networks of mutual support and collaboration,” she said.

The course will run for nine months and includes nearly 500 hours of online training and an additional weekend a month of hands-on training in Cantabria – a mountainous area of the country –, according to The Guardian. The curriculum also includes a crash course in small-scale sustainable farming.

While shepherding livestock is an occupation that has been done since ancient times, the school will use the latest technological advances including using drones to track the herd. There are also hands-on training classes that include beekeeping, cheese making, and eco-tourism that will allow the women a chance for extra income.

While the school received 265 applicants, there will only be 30 selected for the first course. The start date has not yet been finalized.

While the idea of a school segregated by sex has not been fully embraced; Pacheco said that the conditions in some villages is dire with 149 seniors for every 100 children. “If we want generational change, women are fundamental,” she said. “We see this school as a social transformation project – we want to empower women and dignify this work.”

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