Thursday, 17 May 2018

Unravelling the strands of ‘patriarchy’ in rural innovation: A study of female innovators and their contribution to rural Connemara

JournalsBooks Advanced Outline Highlights Abstract Keywords 1. Introduction 2. Gender and rural innovation 3. Methodology 4. Results and discussion 5. Conclusion References Figures (4) Fig.1. As suggested by Bock (2004) factors affecting rural women in the self-employed… Fig.2. Selected rural case study locations Fig.3. Economic impact of the survey respondents Fig.4. Social impact of the survey respondents Tables (1) Table 1 Elsevier Journal of Rural Studies Volume 54, August 2017, Pages 15-27 Journal of Rural Studies Author links open overlay panelAoife M.Ní FhlathartaMauraFarrell School of Geography and Archaeology, National University of Ireland Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland Received 16 January 2016, Revised 20 February 2017, Accepted 1 May 2017, Available online 6 June 2017. crossmark-logo Get rights and content Highlights • Explores the pioneering role of women in rural innovation. • Rural restructuring is furnishing rural women with new employment trajectories. • Rural women engaged in the SME sector prove instrumental in rejuvenating rural regions. • Hegemonic masculine constructs ingrained within the rural idyll are prohibiting women from realizing their focal role in SMEs. Abstract While studies of rural women and their participation in the innovation milieu continues to be championed, within the Republic of Ireland very few studies have been conducted on Irish women's participation and value in this sector, with much of the limited research being curtailed to the realm of Irish agriculture. Addressing the paucity of studies, this paper specifically explores the pioneering role of women in rural innovation in areas located along the west coast region of Ireland, to uncover the connection between these women's enterprises and the overall development of the Irish hinterlands. The paper is based on both qualitative and quantitative research with 54 female innovators, who shared their experiences and difficulties as an innovator in a peripheral region. As the work of rural women often goes unnoticed and unrecorded, this research employed a feminist perspective to gain a deeper understanding of the role of women in rural innovation. The findings of the research highlight the dual role of rural women as innovators; furthermore show female innovators as being of paramount importance for the overall development of Europe's rural regions. Despite their imperativeness as agents of positive change; offering as they do an alternative path to sustainable development for the Western regions, the women were unable to appreciate their significance due to patriarchal and hegemonic ideologies which still impact women residing in rural areas. Previous article in issue Next article in issue Keywords Rural innovation Rural women Rural development Gender Enterprise Republic of Ireland 1. Introduction There has been much debate among academic discourse concerning the perils and challenges wrought upon rural residents. Experiencing a challenging pathway of falling farm incomes, reduced subsidies, infrastructural difficulties and a dearth of secondary and tertiary employment prospects has ensured a hard fought battle for the socio-economic stability of rural households. Such challenges have undoubtedly grown in tandem along with the all-persuasive nature instilled within this aeon of globalization and its continuous need for rural restructuring. Since the return of recessionary conditions, moreover, in contending with the central loss of farming, a potent symbol of rural economic life, an increasing number of rural regions throughout Europe are seeking to diversify their economic base through new uses of rural space, and are therefore ensuring new economic ventures and occupations being imprinted upon notions of rurality (Murphy and Scott, 2014; Atterton, 2016; Lowe et al., 1993). Alternative economic growth has always remained a pivotal facet of an economically and socially solid framework for rural areas. Undoubtedly, this becomes manifest when one reviews the plethora of policy reforms that have been tailored to advocate such conceptualisations as diversification and plurliactivity. However, now more than ever this need for new employment prospects has brought about the notion that endogenous development, exploiting local and regional resources in a sustainable manner, in addition to building capacity within local economies is critical if the younger segment of the rural population is to be retained. With the emphasis being placed upon endogenous development coupled with this need for alternative economic practices, a significant body of literature has explored the emergence of rural innovation as a new economic trajectory for rural areas, with the suggestion that engaging in entrepreneurial behaviours and creating Small and Medium- Sized Enterprises (SMEs) holds the key to the sustainable growth of rural regions being highly commended (Alsos et al., 2013OECD, 2012; Inhetveen and Schmitt, 2004). For rural development policy makers within the European core, rural innovation has become somewhat of a counter strategy for many of the economic ills woven within the collapse of the agrarian realm. The endless possibilities woven within the concept suggests a comprehensive set of perspectives of its ability to function as an effective measure for developing the economic trajectory of our rural hinterlands. Albeit that the gender factor has often failed to be incorporated within the literature concerning rural innovation, rural women have a dual role as innovators as they often prove as Anthopoulou (2010) has suggested, to be pioneers in creating entrepreneurial initiatives within an array of sectors. Recognising the overarching possibilities weaved within rural innovation, rural women are attempting to diversify the local economic base through multifarious innovative endeavours both within and beyond the farm yard. Recognising that women make up a major part of rural regions, suggests their potential in rural innovation to underpin the delivery of sustainability and enhance the capacity for economic growth at national and regional levels during this era of economic uncertainty. Through small business creation that typically utilizes local resources and adapts products to the changing requirements of local and global markets, these women consequently become innovators and key actors in the local economy. Their development of alternative economic growth within the secondary and tertiary sector has undoubtedly become a central facet for the increased championing of female innovators1 within employment deprived regions. Accordingly the notion that female innovators remain as a catalyst for economic development, furthermore as a panacea for much of the economic ills of the countryside, has become highly commended among a niche of academic discourse (Mishra and Kiran, 2014; Anthopoulou, 2010). The need to foster female innovators is patent through the many economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits they can accrue (Allen et al., 2008; Demossier, 2004). Within the context of the Irish countryside, policy reforms and political discourse in the form of the CEDRA (Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) Report and more recently its rural innovation funded initiative ACORNS (Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-ups) a programme developed to assist start-up female entrepreneurs residing in a rural area, have put forth the importance of women and their pioneering role in rural innovation and overall rural development. Undoubtedly, these developments within the academic milieu represents a shift in policy thinking, which in line with current rural academic tendencies acknowledges that rural women, moreover female innovators within and beyond the agrarian realm are drivers of economic growth, which need to be embraced in order to enable an effective balance of economic, social and environmental development, warranted in order to underpin the future vitality of our hinterlands. However, while studies of rural innovation with a gender focus are proliferating among the academic milieu, nationally, few studies in the Republic of Ireland have sought to explore the matter of female innovators and their pioneering role in developing the economic trajectories of rural regions, furthermore the potential impacts that their social status as an innovator may have on gender relations within the traditionally patriarchal rural society, in addition to the many tangible and non-tangible perils which lay before them in the current economically unstable climate. In this paper, this particular scarcity is addressed by exploring the role of female innovators and their contribution and implications to the development of the Southern and Northern hinterlands of Connemara, Co. Galway, located along the west coast region of Ireland. As the current state of research pertaining to rural innovation is often devoted to the position of the male within the agrarian realm, the aim of this paper then is to unravel the stands of patriarchy and all its ideologies which has become inherent to both innovation and rural environments, by examining the pioneering role of the female innovator and the impact of their enterprise across three key pillars: economic, social and cultural. In this context, the paper aims while drawing on empirical data, which utilized a participatory approach and a feminist framework, to investigate the everyday practices, the personal situations, in addition to the perils and the coping strategies of these women operating an enterprise in a peripheral and economically disadvantaged region. As it is well established that rural women have historically remained as an invisible workforce within rural regions, where their pivotal role and economic contribution within rural space has been largely unacknowledged and in many ways neglected (Gasson, 1992; Little and Panelli, 2003; Bock and Shortall, 2006) this paper also sets out to explore the impact that female-led enterprises may have on gender relations and hegemonic structures within rural areas through the subjective experiences of these women as called for by Hughes (1997) and McNerney and Gillmor (2005). 2. Gender and rural innovation 2.1. Definition of rural innovation While there have been many attempts made to provide a theoretical framework of innovation and even more attempts made at creating a universal definition (Whatmore et al., 1991; Burke, 1995; Dax et al., 2016; Dargan and Shucksmith, 2008;Dodgsan and Gann, 2010) innovation remains as a contested and a highly complex concept. While the many inter-disciplinary views imprinted upon the notion of innovation may perhaps interpret its principle components inversely, as noted by Dargan and Shucksmith (2008) theories surrounding innovation in firms are often altered for technological product development, its function invariably remains analogous, where innovation acts as a catalyst for economic growth and change (Castree et al., 2013). Although innovation has been understood in classic economic thought as a one dimensional process fixated on the application of new technologies or carrying out of formal research – particularly if one follows the economic vernacular of the Schumpeterian theory - contemporary forms of innovation has begun to move beyond technological advancement and is now more frequently viewed as a process of improvement and change. By viewing innovation as an improved change it is more purposeful to cogitate it as a continuous process which aims to seek competitive advantage (Tunney, 2015). As Mahroum et al. (2007) note innovation within the SME sector is a multifaceted process that seeks to do things differently in an improved, faster and perhaps a more cost efficiently manner that benefits the wider community. Undoubtedly, it is innovation's capability of spurring wider social change and progress that has resulted in it gaining traction within the rural domain, so much so that it is a pivotal component that has been incorporated in what appears to be the only acceptable definition offered on the concept. Born from the stems of traditional innovation theory, Mahroum et al. propose rural innovation to be ‘the introduction of something new (a novel change) to economic or social life in rural areas, which adds new economic or social value to rural life’ (2007, p.10). Emphasising both economic and social components reflects the diversity rooted within the concept, furthermore highlighting the dual role it plays in rejuvenating local communities; addressing as it does the inequalities of rural regions by catering for the need of key services and businesses (Mahroum et al., 2007; Steinerowski et al., 2008; Farmer et al., 2012; United Nations, 2009). Attributable to this, innovation has become a key facet within political discourse. Being at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy – which aims to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth – innovation is viewed upon as a key driver of achieving the measures set out by Europe's current rural development model which includes an endogenous development accent, bottom-up strategies and social cohesion approaches. As O'Connor et al. (2006) highlight, developing innovative opportunities for rural regions, whilst adding extra value to a produce/enterprise/resource is central to any rural development model, where it strives to reconstruct the eroded economic base of rural regions in an environmentally conscious manner. As the OECD (2014) laments, rural development is a goal for which rural dwellers themselves are responsible for. Accordingly, rural innovation furnishes the rural populace with the opportunity of sustaining the progress of their economic, environmental and social development, as innovation entails the co-operation of a variety of rural actors with diverse forms of knowledge and experience to accrue local contextualisation (Leeuwis and van den Ban, 2004; Dargan and Shucksmith, 2008). 2.2. Female innovators as custodians of the countryside? Rural areas have witnessed profound yet fundamental changes with the agrarian realm in particular facing a number of developmental challenges. Such profound changes has ensured that traditional farm practices holds very little appeal for those seeking to remain viable on profits accrued by small-farm holdings. This becoming more significant as society delves further into the depths of globalization, carrying with it a commercialised and specialised ethos of the agricultural sector. With the limited employment opportunities and economic scope bestowed upon rural residents, this growing need for alternative employment has at a European level led to both policy measures and rural inhabitants reinventing themselves through the pathway of rural innovation, namely through the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises. Such a scale of innovation remains imperative for overcoming the economic plight of rural areas, where within an Irish context it remains as an overall developmental logic to enhance the prosperity of Ireland's rural regions, particularly needed after the Celtic Tiger era (O'Donoghue, 2015). The proliferation of small and medium-sized enterprises within Europe's rural regions has presented many unique and diverse economic, but also social and cultural entities. For the custodians of the countryside who wish to abscond from the grasp of a neoliberalist model, it has presented the farm enterprise with the prospect of rejuvenating economic development when it may have risked fading into the abyss. This drive for innovation has undoubtedly inaugurated newcomer groups, in addition to revitalising existing actors to the formal rural economy, who along with their entrepreneurial initiatives are at present reshaping its economic and social composition. To the forefront of such actors is rural women. Literature pertaining to enterprise creation has highlighted the growing number of small businesses being established by women in rural areas (Markantoni and van Hoven, 2012; Anthopoulou, 2010; Warren-Smith and Jackson, 2004). The prevailing reason being behind such an increase in the Republic of Ireland for example, is that under half of farm households are only sustainable due to the off-farm income of the spouse/partner (Hennessy and Moran, 2016). However this is not a problem solely inherent to the Irish countryside, this specific trend is emerging globally, where rural women are often pushed into creating a business out of economic necessity. Both McClelland et al. (2005) and Deakins and Whittam (2000) reveal that the motivations for business creation are often attributable to what academic discourse terms the negative factors; unemployment and a need for a healthy income. In fact, Catley and Hamilton (1998) would even suggest that for many women, developing a business remains as the last resort. The reluctance of women to enter the self-employment sector has often little to do with the capability of the individual, but is rather a result of the challenging and male-dominated environment in which hegemonic discourse has portrayed it as. With limited resources and geographical barriers, often no business qualifications and little financial backing, rural women are fraught with a restricted pathway in terms of the enterprise they commit to. Consequently, these women tend to favour smaller businesses that build upon indigenous traditions and resources, often developing enterprises within what is regarded as gendered sectors such as tourism, accommodation and craft (Pato, 2015; McGehee et al., 2007; Anthopoulou, 2010; Bock, 2004). Although depending upon traditional resources, research evidence suggests that rural women engage in a wide variety of enterprises within and beyond the farmyard, often altering a product in order to meet current consumer needs. In rural Greece for example, Anthopoulou (2010) discovered while examining women's enterprises in local agrofood production, that many of the women diversified their product (e.g. creating coloured pasta and sweets suitable for dietetics) to attend to contemporary lifestyles. Research evidence also highlights that women running businesses within rural areas tend to vary more when compared to their urban counterparts. When compared to larger developed countries such as Australia, female entrepreneurs in Ireland were seen to be engaging in a wider range of organisations to ensure economic viability (McClelland et al., 2005). Literature within this field reveals that rural women tend to opt for less larger firms, focusing more on the local and therefore not creating many opportunities of employment or capital. Consequently this challenges the prevailing masculinist and capitalistic notions imprinted upon society's take on entrepreneurial models. By tradition, innovation and the business sector is ingrained with hegemonic masculine ideologies that reinforces the idea that successful business is solely dependent upon economic performance and tangible outputs (Bruni et al., 2004; Allen et al., 2008). As Bruni et al. (2004), Bock (2004) and Anthopoulou (2010) highlight, the conventional facets of business development and entrepreneurs include traits that are habitually associated with males: dominant, adventurous and creative. Such connotations of enterprise creation impede the participation of women in innovation. More significantly, however, it impacts and shapes the attitudes of business women towards their own identity and role. Indeed as global figures would suggest there are still fewer females engaging in enterprise development than men. Allen et al. (2008) revealed that women still only account for one-third of entrepreneurial individuals. Nevertheless the number of women engaging in innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives is on the increase since the global economic recession (Inhetveen and Schmitt, 2004). While one may argue that this participation is within a constrictive context, due to practical and cultural barriers, academic discourse has acknowledged these innovators – individuals that are introducing new methods, ideas and products in the form of an enterprise–as important agents for the development of rural areas in economic, social, cultural and more recently environmental terms. As stressed in a report by the European Commission almost two decades ago, rural women entering self-employment have the ‘added advantage of an awareness and knowledge of local needs, and special interpersonal and communication skills’ (2000,p.13). Drawing on research undertaken by Haugen (2004) the contribution of female innovators to rural regions is overarching, where it is effectively enhancing the sustainability of rural populations. One substantial contribution as Haugen (2004) and Carter et al. (2006) have noted is the strengthening of rural markets through job creation, furnished by the enterprises of these rural women. Owing to the dearth of employment opportunities which besieges the rural milieu, it is hardly surprising that their generation of potential employment prospects has led to a shift in the policy environment favouring the position of females in the self-employment sector (Dinis, 2006). Albeit job creation and its correlation with the proliferation of a county's GDP is positioned strongly to the forefront of the economic contributions of the female innovator, economic factors such as private sector development and wealth creation for an area remain of paramount importance also. While the business turnover and scope of an enterprise operated by a female may often be deemed as trivial when compared to the economic performance and business turnover of their male counterpart, research has shown how small business operations can be deemed as a success for rural areas. In fact, McGrath and O'Toole (2014) suggest that owing to the fact that innovators within rural areas are inclined to operate on an extremely local basis, where resources and materials are sought locally within a region; attributable to access and the high nature of transportation costs consequently, investment of capital stays fostered within the boundaries of rural areas. This internal web of capital and indigenousness being weaved within the enterprises of female innovators makes these women significant economic contributors; despite this however, they are as reports by GEM (2007) and Forfas (2007) have acknowledged, an untapped economic resource. With the continuous emphasis being placed upon environmental degradation and the need for sustainable development female innovators have been dovetailed with environmental protection, a further reason for their championing. Women are traditionally regarded as the eco-friendly sex when compared to their male counterparts and are more inclined to express concern about their environmental impacts (Johnsson-Latham, 2006, 2007; McCright, 2010). A niche of academic discourse has commended female innovators for their environmentally conscious ethos, Roy (2012) postulates that rural women incorporate sustainable environmental principles during their daily endeavours and are extremely conscious of the fact that the renewable resources in which they so heavily depend upon are slowly morphing into non-renewable resources. While utilizing these resources for the benefit of their enterprise remains imperative, rural women also attempt to preserve them for future use by addressing any negative environmental impact that they may have. Therefore as Roy (2012) argues women within rural regions of developing and developed countries have a crucial part to play in sustaining ecological resources. In concord with Roy (2012)UNIDO (2013) has suggested that females within the realm of innovation have a smaller ecological footprint as they possess valuable knowledge of sustainable energy and resource solutions. The stage of environmental development and the degree of dynamism of the female innovator however, determines their level of positive contribution to the physical environment. Factors such as the ethos of the business, in addition to financial and non-monetary resources can nonetheless aid in preventing the prospect of an ecological collapse. Accepting from these arguments that the contribution of women in rural innovation is overarching and timely for addressing agricultural decline, it must be borne in mind that despite their pivotal role female innovators are confronted by an array of challenging monetary and non-monetary obstacles impeding their development. 2.3. Barriers to progression Many perils lay before female innovators within rural regions. Along with the emblematic challenges faced by the general innovative populace which stem in their form from limited financial resources to poor networking systems and training, female innovators must also contend with the peripheral location of their enterprise, in addition yet not limited to the patriarchal ideologies and gender stereotyping which still impact women within the rural milieu (Shortall, 2002; World Bank, 2011). In exploring the barriers which rural women are confronted with Bock (2004) summarises these challenges into a four tier basis (see Fig. 1.) Fig. 1 Download high-res image (184KB)Download full-size image Fig. 1. As suggested by Bock (2004) factors affecting rural women in the self-employed sector. Categorization of these factors includes the peripheral location of the enterprise, local gender ideology, availability of educational training and infrastructure, education and economic needs of the innovator. In agreement with Bock (2004) research on the barriers facing female innovators have been inclined to classify these challenges into two broad categories based on tangible and in-tangible aspects. To the forefront of the many perils which lay before the female innovator residing in rural areas is difficulty accessing capital and adequate funding. Shah et al. (2013) whilst examining these concerns has acknowledged that rural women venturing into rural enterprises or who wish to expand their business further, do not have the financial ability to do so, and therefore depend heavily on financial institutions and organisations. Raising and meeting the monetary needs of bankers and creditors however, proves daunting for females within rural areas of developed and developing countries, as they often do not possess the required collateral to ensure bank loans due to personal family commitments, in addition to their limited opportunities to accrue savings due to their dependents. As Mishra and Kiran (2014) have argued, financial institutions are not as forthcoming to females when compared to their male counterparts, thus making the process of seeking financial assistance and information an arduous experience. Undoubtedly, the challenge of seeking financial assistance has grown in tandem as society is forced to succumb to the consequences of the global economic decline. This being particularly evident within the Irish context where the economic prosperity instilled in the once thriving Celtic Tiger era ensured monetary patronage for many rural enterprises. During this aeon of economic uncertainty however, capital is critically scarce for innovators. This scarcity is vividly portrayed in McGrath and O'Toole (2014) study which in consensus with the research of Mishra and Kiran (2014) and Shah et al. (2013) acknowledges liquidity as a matter of concern for innovators within rural Ireland, where women's lack of access to sources of credit and investment is proving problematic for their continued professional development. It is furthermore noted that hegemonic masculine structures within the innovation culture, the lack of female business supports and the embryonic nature of female networks can vastly impede their development (Shortall, 2002; Little, 1986; Hession, 2009). Regrettably, these barriers can deter women's participation in rural innovation (Brandth, 2002; Shortall, 2002). 2.4. Gender relations and female self-employment The rural environment despite its rapidly changing nature is instilled with a patriarchal structure which has a habit of portraying men as custodians of the countryside and women as ‘textually mediated representations of farming life’ (Brandth, 2002, p. 281). The customary dovetailing of rural women with internal duties in the form of domestic and childrearing responsibilities has ensured women to be at a disadvantage when compared to their male counterparts, leading to their voices and imperative activities within the rural environment being peripheralized. While the social structures of rural regions remain inherently heterogeneous and male dominated, the decline in the agricultural sector and the need for economic viability has heralded the rise of women in formal paid employment. As Inhetveen and Schmitt (2004) have argued, the repositioning of rural women from the peripheries of the household to the employment sector has not merely reshaped the role of women in rural society; it has furthermore led to substantial changes occurring within gender relations. The financial independence attached to their income streams has for the foremost resulted in rural women being less dependent on the male in social and economic terms. It also, as Shortall effectively points out while drawing on the work of Rogers and DeBoer (2001), ‘places them [rural women] in a position where they expect and receive more equitable sharing of household decision making power’ (2002, p. 160). At this juncture, it is perhaps necessary to draw attention as many academic studies have done so in the past (Shortall, 2002; Little, 2002; Bock, 2004) to the fact that as a result of falling farm incomes and lack of employment opportunities for rural men, rural women have been forced into the self-employment sector, furthermore into the role as breadwinner. This is a role that few custodians of the countryside can fulfil during these modern times (Hanrahan et al., 2014). Consequently, such developments pertaining to the subsiding of the male status, coupled with the fact that women's employment is radically transgressing cultural restrictions has challenged the traditional masculinist power ideologies imprinted upon rural society, and has therefore assisted in altering the traditional patriarchal structure evident within rural areas and the self-employment sector. The research focuses on exploring women's impacts further in depth, identifying the far-reaching economic, social, cultural and environmental influences of their endeavours on rural regions, further drawing out their positive contribution which has remained invisible. 3. Methodology 3.1. Study area Research was undertaken with female innovators engaged in an array of economic and non-economic practices within two peripheral regions of Connemara in the West of Ireland; one of these regions is designated as a Gaeltacht region2 while the other is categorised as a Gaeltacht Service town under Ireland's 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language. The former being An Spidéal, Co. Galway located 17.9 KM from Galway City, the nearest urban centre; the latter, a marginally located area was Clifden, Co. Galway located 77 Km from Galway City also the nearest urban centre (Fig. 2). On account of their geographical location both of the study regions also fall under the world's longest defined coastal tourism route The Wild Atlantic Way. For both areas challenges such as unemployment, a dearth of industrial employment opportunities, transport barriers, poor service provision and inadequate broadband are everyday experiences for the inhabitants of the research sites. Economic development within both areas is based predominantly on the natural environment and the cultural and social resources inherent within; both areas have however, seen a decrease in the agrarian sector in recent years. Enterprises concerned with the craft industry, the food and hospitality sector, in addition to artisan and localised specialisation products are pivotal employment prospects for the local dwellers. Fig. 2 Download high-res image (399KB)Download full-size image Fig. 2. Selected rural case study locations. 3.2. Research context and methodology Given the dearth of studies conducted on women and rural innovation in Ireland we were anxious to (1) explore the role of female innovators operating enterprises in rural regions; (2) to assess these women's economic impact to the rural; (3) to unearth the possible social consequences of running this enterprise; (4) to secure an understanding of the challenges they are continuously fraught with. More concretely, however we wished to deconstruct the patriarchy inherent to the concept of rural innovation to bring forth the worth and value of rural women to rural society. In order to do this we were interested specifically in assessing their role and current situation through the perspectives and lived experiences offered to us by these women residing and working within rural areas of West and South Connemara. Attributable to this, this research was guided by a feminist framework which employed both participatory and mixed method traditions. Feminism encapsulates best the account of women's lives and illuminates the invisibility and historical misrepresentations of women in patriarchal society (McDowell, 1992). As a lens it alerts us to the value of women's lived experiences and by placing women to the forefront as the knowing subject of the study, the paradigm suggests that females are in a powerful position and have a particular understanding of the world which males fail to comprehend (Lukás, 1997). McDowell (1993) suggests that for feminist researchers making ‘the unseen’ seen remains as a guiding framework for the research process. Unlike other theoretical conceptualisations, feminism is interested in reconstituting knowledges and different relationalities of the world that allow for marginalised voices to coalesce. Drawing on Brayton (1997) utilising the voices of women which were once excluded or expressed from a male perspective is pivotal in the production of knowledge of any feminist research. The researcher must reject the ethos of any objective scientific method and allow the validity of these subjective experiences and marginalised voices to guide the research process (Landman, 2006). Approaching the research from a feminist perspective, namely through a dialectical process enabled us to offer a critique of positivist understandings of the world, which effectively disrupts the primacy of positivist knowledges and of the hegemonic position and their role discursively and in policy, by illuminating the experiences and life stories of these rural women as businesswomen rather than housewives. Rethinking what is claimed to be knowledge from the sole perspective of these women's lives ensured that we as researchers were not omnipotent experts in control of the research participants and was therefore the reason why we opted to undertake an open semi-structured interview that allowed for these women to be the authorities of their own experiences. Hussain and Asad explain the importance of ensuring a non-hierarchy relationship between the researcher and the research, as the research process ‘should not be a means of collecting data but rather be a means of sharing information with the personal involvement of the researcher in the research setting’ (2012, p. 205). In our research, in referring to the women of this study the term innovator has been utilized in preference to entrepreneur, as it offers an alternative perspective that represents the diversity entrenched upon contemporary rural enterprises, which extends beyond the monetary parameters associated with traditional entrepreneurial conceptualizations. Unlike entrepreneur, the term innovator is not constrained to an economic vernacular, nor a male domain making it more susceptible for women to identify themselves with this concept. Drawing upon Mahroum et al. (2007) definition, an innovator is viewed as an individual who introduces something new, whether economically or socially to rural areas which adds to a regions economic or social life. Though imperative, economic advantage may not necessarily be a pivotal objective for an innovator, their enterprise/practice may act as a mechanism in order to deliver social or community good to a rural region, as was evident within the two case studies. Each participant of the study offered a service or product unique to the area, though many of these women's endeavors were established out of economic necessity, a number were created to add to the social stratum of rural areas. The authors are not suggesting that these women are innovators due to them creating employment or tangible assets. As academic discourse would have us believe, innovation within SMEs is less focused on the application of new technologies and more on the role it can play in rejuvenating local communities; addressing as it does the inequalities of the rural by catering for the need of key services and businesses. The research consisted of two components/phases: (1) designing and distributing of the questionnaires; and (2) sourcing relevant participants to undertake semi-structured interviews. The first phase of the research involved the administration of a questionnaire to 80 female innovators within the two regions drawn from a database of 131 female designed by the researchers. This database which consisted of 131 female innovators of diverse ages and enterprises was created by the researcher using information from a local enterprise office, a business directory website, in addition to the resources offered by local newspapers and residents (see Table 1). The 131 female innovators were divided into subgroups based on geographical location and online presence of their enterprise/product; for example one stratum consisted of female innovators within the Clifden region whose enterprise/produce had a strong online presence, while another stratum included the same category of women from the An Spidéal region whose enterprise/product had a weak online presence. On account of issues relating to costs, time and resources of the 131 potential subjects, 80 were chosen as the sample frame of this study, 40 subjects from each study site. Table 1. Profile of participants. Age of Respondents (%) 35 and under (4) 36-45 (18) 46-55 (47) 56+ (31) Martial status (%) Single (16) Married (78) Discovered (4) Separated (2) Qualifications (%) No Qualifications Primary (5) Secondary (38) Higher (57) Children (%) No (9) Yes (91) Status Business Sole Trader (30) Partnership (Family member) (54) Unknown (16) Type of Enterprise (%) Artisan (48) Hospitality (26) Retail (13) Craft (2) Health & Beauty (2) Age of Enterprise (%) 5 and under (46) 6-15 (33) 16+(21) The purpose of the questionnaire was to obtain a prompt indication of these women's activities in rural innovation and collect socio-demographic information in order to identify key informants to participate in the second phase of the study. Fifty-four female innovators accepted the invitation to participate in the study. Utilising such a sampling procedure ensured a more accurate reflection of the population, while reducing the likelihood of random error occurring. The 54 participants, all white women from diverse economic and social backgrounds ranged in age from 19 to 65+, although the age bracket of 45–54 was most represented. Of the 54 female innovators, 42 were married, nine were single, two were divorced and another widowed. Forty-nine of these participants had children; 21 in which were under the age of six. 57% of the women were holders of a third level qualification. Sixteen identified themselves as the primary agent of the enterprise, twenty-nine as partners running the business with either their spouses or siblings, while nine did not respond. They operated a selection of enterprises with 26 falling under the category of artisan/food/beer; 14 under the hospitality sector; seven under retail; four under health and beauty; one under the craft industry and one under the category of ‘other’ but did not specify. The years in which their enterprises were established ranged from a year to 10+. As the study was conducted within a Gaeltacht region, each document was translated verbatim into the Irish language and included in each initial contact within both study areas to ensure that those most marginalised in society could be reached. Information regarding the study was made known publically through parish newsletters, posters on local notice boards, in addition to a local radio station. The questionnaires were conducted face-to-face to ensure a high and fast response between May and July 2015. As this phase of the research was conducted during a popular tourist period in the West of Ireland a number of participants were unable to complete the questionnaire promptly. Participants in this instance agreed to return the questionnaire to the researchers by means of post at a later date. This however, delayed the study as the advancement to its second and final phase depended on whether or not respondents of the questionnaire accepted the invitation to be interviewed. On account of the initial contact being available through both the medium of English and Irish, five of the participants requested the questionnaire be also designed and made available through both languages; the researchers accepted this request as they felt that the contribution of these individuals would be of great significance to the study. The second phase of the study consisted of a number of semi-structured interviews and a collage activity which sought to contextualise the findings accrued from the questionnaires. Six participants were selected for this phase through a form of non-probability sampling. All six participants of the semi-structured interviews were purposely selected from the 36 survey respondents who agreed to follow up the survey with an interview or focus group. While many authors such as Godambe (1982) have in the past insisted that purposive sampling can render the data meaningless if unsuitable subjects with little knowledge or skill of the phenomenon being studied are selected; purposive sampling in this case ensured that a cross-section of female innovators of diverse ages, family circumstances and enterprises were included to allow a more representative sample. The six participants interviewed were fluid English speakers; three were fluid Irish speakers and while they were all comfortable with their fluency in English, one of the participants requested the interview to be conducted in the Irish language. Two of the six participants were also active in organisations concerned with enterprise/innovation support. One of these participants was president of a regional organisation advocating women in business, while the other was a chairperson of a local organisation providing support for innovators and entrepreneurs. Prior to the undertaking of each interview, each of the six participants were invited to create a collage pertaining to the research questions. For example one collage consisted of the ‘Economic Contribution of the Female Innovator’ and participants were asked to state through the juxtaposing of words and photos provided by the researcher what their viewpoint was of the said theme/topic. Five of the participants accepted this invitation with one declining for reasons of time constraints. Each interview took the form of a semi-structured interview. The participant's completed questionnaire from the previous study phase was a basis for the interview; however a number of open-ended questions not addressed in the questionnaire's format were added which included questions around the issues of entrepreneurial support and networking systems. Five of the interviews were conducted in English, and one in Irish, as one of the participants requested that the interview be conducted through the medium of Irish as she felt she was more competent of expressing her views through this vernacular. As the participant was regarded as a key informant by the researchers, whose views would maximise the data for this study, the researchers were in the position to accept the request. In terms of analysis, quantitative data accrued through the closed questions of the surveys was carried out using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) software; however, a qualitative analysis approach was adopted primarily because we sought to comprehend the behaviour and situation of the female innovators. More specifically, a thematic analysis approach was utilized to generalise the emerging results and extract the meaning of our observations through the use of labels and sub-categorization of the transcribed and coded interviews. 4. Results and discussion In what follows we illustrate the results accrued through the questionnaires and the interviews carried out with female innovators in rural areas within the Connemara region. The purpose was to gain insight into the role and contribution of the female innovator to rural regions, mainly to explore the impact of their income stream on the region; the challenges that obstruct the development of their enterprise and whether the hegemonic masculinity ideologies have impeded their progression in the formal economy in anyway. 4.1. Female innovators: drivers of change? One of the first areas of examination investigated the relationship between the enterprises of the female innovators and the development of the region in terms of socio-economic and cultural development. Our hypothesis was that the income streams of these rural women contribute significantly to the sustainability of the rural household, more specifically to the rejuvenation of the farm enterprise and even more so to the overall growth of the region. The rationale here being that recent studies within the Republic of Ireland have revealed that the farm enterprise can no longer depend solely on profits accrued by small-farm holdings and in order to remain economically viable the spouse must engage in the formal economy whether within the labour market or as entrepreneurs (Hanrahan et al., 2014; O’Brien and Hennessy, 2008). The data collected from both study sites illustrate that female innovators are significant agents for sustaining and in ways developing the overall trajectories of the Connemara region. Across the three pillars of examination (economic, social and cultural) the findings provide ample evidence that these women have a dual role and should be regarded as drivers of development within rural regions. These women are implementing positive changes within the area of employment creation, internal investment, service provision and in many cases fostering traditional and cultural ideologies of Irish identity. At an economic level, the contribution of these women is fundamental to the region. Findings from this research suggest they have an immense impact on the local economy whereby their diverse economic entities formulate a coherent and integrative development strategy as a response to the compelling changes which has befallen among the rural environment within recent decades. The majority of female innovators believe that their enterprise have an influential bearing on economic growth within the region (see Fig. 3) with 14% of respondents within the Clifden area believing this to be a rather significant economic advantage. The economic advantages of the female innovator according to the women relate this significance to job creation in the area, utilization and leasing of local resources and reinvestment of capital into the area. However, 88% of the females view the creation of employment rather than the tangible capital accrued from the business as a pivotal factor when discussing their economic contribution (see Fig. 3). Fig. 3 Download high-res image (200KB)Download full-size image Fig. 3. Economic impact of the survey respondents. The semi-structured interviews shed further light on the extent of this contribution where a number of the women stated their enterprise has afforded employees and their households with an essence of economic viability: If I hadn't given her a job she'd find it very hard I think to put food on the table. [I.2 Owner of a flower shop] Despite previous protests by the OECD (1998) economic success to these women was calculated by the number of positions offered by the enterprise. While the average number of employees of the females interviewed for the study range from one employee to six, much of this employment is seasonal and on a part-time basis. Owing to the dearth of trade outside of peak tourist seasons these women have little alternative but to offer seasonal positions only if they are to remain viable. Therefore employment of this sort has been predominantly aimed at rural youth, namely post primary and third-level students during the summer months when the area is more vibrant with events, festivals and summer camps. One individual stated that: I have five girls with me … [2 of them] are full time while the other girls are here for the summer months … because it gets so busy with all the festivals and my grandchildren are off too I need this amount of workers. [I.1 Boutique owner] The women also mentioned how this type of employment is of great benefit for the younger population in the area keeping as it does the rural youth in the region: It's convenient for the girls though, they're around for the summer and I need the extra help on the floor. [I.1 Boutique owner] Semi-structured interviewers revealed that five out of six women acknowledge that their enterprise furnishes their region with direct job creation. Only one woman highlighted however, that albeit she currently does not employ any individuals her economic contribution to the region can be regarded as being indirect and is nonetheless far-reaching where through the renting of a local premises and purchasing materials and products imperative for her enterprise she is developing the local economy and trade: sure aren't I keeping most of the community in business here … I'm forever buying materials and food from the local businesses … I'm in and out more of [a local cafe] then I am in my own office. [I.4 Irish language consultant] Drawing in business and reinvesting capital into the area was another factor which emerged during this research. A lower number of the women (37%) being of the impression that their innovative endeavour significantly impacts the local economy by drawing business into the area which in turn leads to a knock-on economic effect for other residing business. The process of networking and internal linkages between the businesses is of paramount importance for the local business community with a number of the women stating their innovative endeavour has positively impacted in economic terms other businesses in the region through the process of referral and networking. One individual stated: people come from far just to visit us … we can how would say capable of working with others … because we get a lot of visitors we can if we both think it's good get our users to try eat at that local restaurant. [I.6 Owner of an ecotourism campsite]; If you have a good business … you bring people into the area … they might go there for one thing … well then they might say to themselves sure while I'm here I might as well pop up to the [local craft village] and see what is happening there. [I.4 Irish language consultant] We observe through the examination of the economic benefits these female innovators generate that these individuals act as beacons for developing the hinterlands of the Connemara region. Findings accrued echo the research of Demossier (2004); Haugen (2004) and the European Commission (2000) who have highlighted the imperativeness of rural women in the self-employment sector, where they have suggested that the participation of these women in the formal economy is effectively sustaining rural populations, further addressing the challenges raised by the succumbing of the agricultural environment. It is important to point out however, that although imperative nationally for the growth of Ireland's GDP the economic contribution of these women is inherently small in scale, affecting as it does a limited audience within the local region. Nonetheless, in the Irish case, O'Donoghue (2015) has pointed out that it is primarily small and medium sized enterprises which continue to be championed among the hinterlands of the Emerald Isle. Rather the promotion of larger innovative enterprises being inherent to urban regions of the country, remaining as a slow and incremental process within the peripheries of rural Ireland, a reflection undoubtedly of the physical and socio-economic climate instilled in rural areas. Our research confirms that the economic contribution of female innovators in rural regions is somewhat confined to the region with 98% of respondents identifying their target market as local. Moreover, our results show that national and international markets are less appealing to female innovators as a mere 3% of the women identified a relationship with the international market. This implies that female innovators in rural areas have not yet relished the potential of the foreign market for their enterprise. As McGrath and O'Toole (2014) and Whatmore et al. (1991) argue rural innovators irrespective of gender operate on a limited local basis where due to economies of scale in terms of production and marketing they are unable and unwilling to expand their enterprises to foreign markets. However, what our results also show contradicts the latter argument proposed by McGrath and O'Toole (2014) and Whatmore et al. (1991) as the semi-structured interviews revealed that all of the women operating on this scale were in fact satisfied with their market potential and did not regard their economic impact as trivial or in any way inadequate. On the contrary, the women became almost boastful when discussing their economic contribution to the Connemara region: I offer employment [R. 22]
 Because of our trade we end up drawing business in for the other businesses here [I.2 Owner of a flower shop]. This family business is a popular tourist destination … it has done wonders for the town. [I.5 Joint owner of a department store] sure aren't I keeping most of the community in business here. [I.4 Irish language consultant] While innovation and the self-employment sector is riddled with a masculinist ethos and the former being curtailed to the agricultural environment rather surprisingly, disclosing their economic significance to the area did not prove testing for the women, as they did not need any stimulus to elaborate on their economic contribution as an innovator. Once again contradicting previous research which has suggested that women tend to give little weight to their efforts, where they often downplay their economic impact (Carter et al., 2006). As far as the women's contribution to Irish cultural and national identity a minority of the female innovators of the study agreed on having an imperative role in the cultural development within the region, despite a number of these enterprises being involved in the craft sector. From further analysis it became apparent that the women whose remit expands beyond the craft industry have taken the necessary steps to assimilate cultural and traditional aspects intrinsic to the region into their business. Rural women are more inclined to foster their cultural identity, whereby very few women particularly in the developing regions of the world fail to embrace cultural values and features in their business endeavours (Cahn, 2006). In a European context, the launch of the INNOCRAFTS project in 2014 signifies the importance of the artistic and contemporary craft sector within the innovation milieu. Indeed, incorporating the gender factor the project calls for the championing of females within the craft business sector. In a more rural focus, the project has identified female innovators within rural environments as key agents of the cultural industry, which lay the foundations for the cultural development of a region. Bearing this in mind, our analysis found that the females were closely bound with traditional Connemara products, where many sought to maintain in some form the cultural ideologies of Connemara life, despite the fact that in recent years Irish society has seen greater emphasis placed upon alternative industries and employment prospects for rural women beyond the traditional primary sector. Women were engaged in the making and distribution of traditional Aran sweaters, hand woven throws, tweed jackets in addition to the retailing of local marble stone products. While both study sites boast a rather expansive food and craft industry where the majority of enterprises pertain to this trade apart from one woman, an artisan baker, no female innovator within the remit of the craft industry was selected for a semi-structured interview, therefore it was not possible for the researcher to unearth the reasons as to why only a minority of the females regarded their innovative endeavour as significant. However, three of the women did reveal that traditional products of Connemara are offered within their premises. For these women, the products though of prime importance hold great cultural significance to him. One woman noted that while these products were first introduced for the purposes of tourists, she felt very strongly about being surrounded by pieces of Irish identity. The majority of the women did initially reveal that they do not regard themselves or their businesses as advocates of the Irish language despite the fact that a number of these enterprises are under the remit of Údarás na Gaeltachta3 which requires enterprises to converse through this vernacular. A further analysis of the findings with the six interviewees did reveal however, that all of the women incorporated facets pertaining to the promotion of the Irish language, but did not regard such factors as Irish language signage, a multilingual brochure explaining the remit of the enterprise, availability of Irish publications or running events within the enterprises during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Speaking Week)4fostering cultural ideologies. Casting a veil over these facets was attributable to these women being incapable of recognising the worth of their work, as one of the women stated them as being “of no use at all” [I.3 Owner of a gift shop]. Similarly when exploring the social contribution of these women to the rural, the participants were once again uncomfortable and reticent when discussing facets under this rubric, despite the fact that the social gain within the realm of innovation and enterprise continues to be championed among academic and lay discourse. Furthermore, it becomes even more surprising when one takes into consideration the work of Carter et al. (2006) who have suggested that female innovators are pivotal agents for social change who are capable of accruing many social benefits in terms of addressing and creating solutions to social problems. The majority of the women over 68% did not believe that their business had any social relevance for rural communities (see Fig. 4). Interestingly, the open-segment attached to this question was for the most part left blank by 48 of the women, suggesting perhaps that women regard social benefits as being difficult to measure and comprehend. Further analysis with the women revealed however, that benefiting the community, although imperative to the businesses in the area, was not a pivotal component in their day to day tasks. A number of the women identifying this as the responsibility of local action groups and statutory organisations; as one woman stated the caring of the local community are: what community groups are made for. [I.1 Boutique owner] Fig. 4 Download high-res image (268KB)Download full-size image Fig. 4. Social impact of the survey respondents. Our findings therefore, contradict prevailing discourse which has argued that rural women are embracing social and community entrepreneurship for social value creation in order to cater for the basic needs of rural dwellers (Dacin et al., 2010; Farmer et al., 2012). Social enterprise was beyond the remit of these women as they did not establish their enterprise for the local community, but rather for the sustainability of the rural household. When asked what was the women's basic motivation for establishing the enterprise; ‘job creation’, ‘saw a need for the product’ and ‘untapped market’ were the key motivations mentioned by the women. A lack of service or product imperative to these women and their families encouraged the proliferation of these women's enterprises. Considering poor service provision and the deterioration of pivotal rural services in the form of post offices, police stations and banks becoming customary among rural areas worldwide, the need to maintain and create services is essential for ensuring the sustainability of rural regions and reducing the prospect of rural isolation. As Woods (2005) argues maintaining services in the rural not only ensures the preservation of the rural youth, it furthermore prohibits the fragmentation of rural communities as daily interactions within these local enterprises ensures an imperative form of social interaction for a community. We observe while drawing on academic discourse that it therefore can be suggested that these rural women through their economic entities are catering for the basic needs of rural dwellers even if it was not their attention to do so. It appears that rural women attach more importance to tangible and monetary aspects when analysing their contribution to the rural than they do to non-monetary gains. This could perhaps be attributable to business success being commonly based upon economic performance as Tigges and Green (1994) and Anthopoulou (2010) effectively point out. 4.2. Walking the line: the challenging pathway facing female innovators As evident from the findings of the study, rural women are confronted by many challenging obstacles which prohibit their development within the self-employed sector. Rural women within this sector are at a serious disadvantage, as along with the emblematic challenges faced by the general innovative populace which stem in their form from limited financial resources to poor networking systems; female innovators must also contend with the peripheral location of their enterprise, hegemonic ideologies and inadequate infrastructural structures all which are attributable to their geographical location (Bock, 2004; World Bank, 2011). The women of this study expressed their dismay when reflecting on the severity of their daily challenges as an innovator. In correlation with the findings of Khanka (2002), Mishra and Kiran (2014) these challenges ranged from financial difficulties, child costs, infrastructural barriers to striking a balance between work and family life in addition to a paucity of business networks. The results indicate that though diverse the challenges can be categorized under the rubric of internal and external challenges. Drawing on the work of Shah et al. (2013) within the context of female innovators in the developing world, we were able to utilize the same categorization model for the purposes of this research. As per Shah et al. (2013) internal challenges refer to the obstacles within the control of the owner, this includes a lack of available capital, poor competiveness and gender bias to name but a few. Albeit that these internal challenges exist on a personal level, where these women effectively hold the competence to address a number of these perils, internal challenges remained nonetheless compelling. Poor financial earnings was a challenge borne by female innovators within rural regions of Connemara, where remaining viable during economic uncertainty was a pivotal factor addressed by all participants. The dearth of profits accrued by an enterprise coupled with an unstable income was a cause of concern for female innovators whose income streams were in many cases sustaining rural households. Owing to the current state of the economy many were fearful of their enterprise fading into the abyss, as identified by one respondent the rise in the cost of living and competiveness of larger enterprises within her remit has left her alas ‘On the brink of shutting up shop’ [R. 36]. In attempting to address female innovators’ financial constraints, participants of this study stressed that meeting the financial requirements and supports of rural women are not being met, with the majority of women (85%) suggesting a lack of financial assistance to be a prominent challenge faced by rural women within the self-employment sector. As lamented by one interviewee, while particular supports and financial backing for SMEs are at present being advertised among the banking sector, when contacted banks were not forthcoming in providing financial assistance to female borrowers, a particular point also referenced by Carter et al. (2006): “I was taken aback by AIBs back brave ad … you know I thought oh yes this sounds good that would suit me so I went into them to see … well now to make a long story short I ended up as being as bad as I was going in … they gave me nothing”. [I.2 Owner of a flower shop] Interestingly, not being a traditional member of the ‘boys club’ was a stumbling block for female innovators where traditional masculinist norms inhibited females development in rural innovation. This crosses over to the area of financial backing where many female innovators experienced and continue to experience reluctance surrounding supports from financial institutions, most noticeable when there is an absence of a male figurehead or counterpart being involved in the enterprise. This particular finding contradicts the work of Fielden and Davidson (2010) and Verheul and Thurik (2001) who have argued that the financial sector is not culpable of gender discrimination, suggesting the reluctance to back females in enterprise being attributable to a lack of experience and competence on the female's part. As the majority of the women were mothers dominating the middle-aged bracket issues pertaining to daily childcare services and costs were stressed under this rubric. Hession (2009) explains how a lack of childcare support inevitably challenges females' enterprise development, as for those who do not have access to such services are left with little alternative but to undertake domestic and child rearing roles. Participants noted however, the obstacle of childcare to be twofold; where the cost of monthly crèche or babysitting services winds up outranking the innovator's profitable return. Interviewees also noted however, the problem pertaining to a lack of professional daily childcare services available in the area. Literature surrounding endogenous and enterprise development within the rural emphasise the significance of networking and social cohesion for developing the trajectories of a business. As WIRE (2015) argue it remains imperative for female innovators within rural areas as it provides them with opportunities to succeed and grow among its thin economic fabric. Recognising its weight, participants who for the most part depend upon horizontal networks acknowledged the lack of external networking opportunities for themselves and their enterprises: “There is little[network opportunities] out there. [I. Boutique owner] I have trouble making the right ones. Where are they exactly”. [I.6 Owner of an ecotourism campsite] Accessing relevant networks to reap its awards is a common barrier faced by female innovates. However, while the interviewees highlighted the importance of networking for creating contacts and generating business knowledge all female innovators apart from one had not contacted Network Galway (a business networking organisation) where one interviewee was unable to justify the cost of the €140 membership fee. One of the participants, a CEO of an organisation promoting business networking among women, stated that networking proves difficult for women as they do not possess the relevant skills and confidence needed to advance in the business realm: a lot of these women they don't have well they think they don't the personality to advance in business … they don't have access to training, or skills or expert advice but this is what we do, we can change that [I.5 Owner of a department store] While emphases placed upon external challenges were not as robust when compared to its counterpart, female innovators did refer to challenges which were physically beyond their control emerging as a result of the physical rural landscape and poor state support. While respondents did not regard the peripheral location of their enterprise as a disadvantage to its development, indeed a number of participants regarded its peripheral nature almost as a competitive advantage, factors in relation to the nature of the rural such as poor infrastructure, a dearth of services and broadband were nonetheless, established as barriers hindering the development of female innovators in Connemara. Concerning those within the Clifden area, the distance of 77 Km to Galway city, its nearest urban centre, has a huge bearing on access to enterprise supports, resources and suppliers which are urban located. Due to their marginalised location it is not feasible, as one woman argued to travel such distances in order to complete errands pertaining to the business: it can be frustrating at times when you have to go that distance for a bloody Revenue form [I.1 Boutique owner] Another woman whose endeavour causes her to travel around the Connemara Gaeltacht identified that she must factor in the quality of the roads, access and broadband speed before she agrees to a job as her enterprise actively depends upon a good internet connection: I have to take things like that into consideration [broadband speed, distance and access to and from the job] otherwise it isn't worth my time [I.4 Irish Language consultant] While a rise in infrastructural advancements has occurred within the last decade, which has as Heger et al. note reduced “the necessity of physical proximity [to knowledge, university and services] as information and also knowledge could be transmitted through broadband infrastructures which makes physical proximity to knowledge “incubators” dispensable” (2008, p. 1) an inadequate level of broadband remains inherent to rural regions of Connemara. 57% of participants stated the poor infrastructural quality, namely access to broadband, to be a factor hindering their development, making the process of accruing relevant information and retaining an online presence problematic. One interviewee residing within the village of An Spidéal admitted she has been forced to spend time in a local hotel in order access relevant information pertaining to her business: I'm lucky I have the hotel here I'd be forced otherwise to move elsewhere. [I.4 Irish Language consultant] 5. Conclusion There is a proliferation of female-led enterprises within rural regions of South Connemara concerned with an array of primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. As research findings suggested, these enterprises have a potent socio-economic bearing on the region, promoting rural development with innovative endeavours which are geared towards the innovator's needs and requirements. It has been established that the contribution of these female innovators are overarching and all-encompassing, affecting as they do the economic, social and cultural trajectories of rural regions. From this research, it is clear that female innovators can be regarded as drivers of development within rural regions, effecting positive changes within the areas of enterprise and employment creation, internal investment, positive impact of gender relations within the traditional patriarchal rural society, catering for the service needs of rural dwellers, in addition to fostering the Irish language. Unbeknownst to themselves these female innovators are leading a charge for rural change, challenging patriarchal structures and the previously accepted male norms (Bock, 2004). Yet the female innovators failed to espouse the importance of their role and contribution within the rural milieu, downplaying their significance apart from when they discussed their monetary value. As Anthopoulou reveals business success is measured in terms of economic performance and business turnover (business success) and/or by the owner's income’ (2010, p. 395). Albeit that this research did not unearth any negative aspects in terms of gender relations, where few participants noted gender bias or patriarchal structures to hinder their contribution to the rural, it can be suggested as supported by Shortall (2002) that females fail to see their worth due to the traditional hegemonic ethos instilled within rural areas, which placed males to the forefront as custodians of the countryside. As the findings have indicated, the hegemonic ethos in the rural is merely one challenge which female innovators are fraught with. In consensus with Shah et al. (2013) challenges though abundant, were categorised based on internal and external factors. Participants did not however, segregate the perils viewing them both as impeding the development of their enterprise. Analysis of these challenges faced by these women revealed that financial constraint in terms of lack of capital and the paucity of financial supports available to them, remains to the forefront as a pivotal factor in their scope and economic development. On the basis of this research, the global economic decline and the rise in the cost of living are factors which define this economic instability and monetary challenges, which only seem to grow in tandem when the household is heavily dependent upon the income streams of these women. Undoubtedly, the lack of financial support and in many cases the sexist and hegemonic ethos within the financial sector, which appear to be less forthcoming to the female innovator who is without a male counterpart, has impeded further their advancement in the development within rural regions. Despite the technological advancements, which has reduced enterprises' dependence upon services, this appears to be a privilege denied to female innovators within rural regions of Connemara, where generally speaking the challenges instilled in the life of a female innovator appear to increase with the peripheral area of their enterprise, due to the dearth of financial services, infrastructural deficiencies and general day-to-day services such as childcare, broadband and banking services which are alas, predominantly urban focused. The segregation of the participants' identified barriers does suggest that female innovators are someway held accountable for their lack of networks and available capital. However, female innovators are geographically marginalized from sectoral enterprise support which remains within reach for their urban counterpart. Furthermore as they do not exert the power needed to establish relevant resources and adequate infrastructural structures for the development of their enterprise and innovative ideas they remain bound to a pathway of perils. The analysis acknowledged that although many structural challenges are woven within the female innovator's enterprise, these endeavours are identified as a niche in the development of the Connemara region. Due to their overarching contributions, female innovators in rural regions of Connemara are covering new terrain championing, a new rural milieu as drivers of change. References Allen et al., 2008 E. Allen, A. Elam, N. Langowitz, M. Dean Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2007 Report on Women and Entrepreneurship Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, Wellesley (2008) Alsos et al., 2013 G.A. Alsos, U. Hytti, E. Ljunggren Gender and innovation: state of the art and a research agenda Int. J. Gend. Entrepreneursh., 5 (3) (2013), pp. 236-256 Anthopoulou, 2010 T. Anthopoulou Rural women in local agrofood production: between entrepreneurial initiatives and family strategies. A case study of Greece J. Rural Stud., 26 (2010), pp. 394-403 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus Atterton, 2016 J. Atterton Invigorating the new rural economy: entrepreneurship and innovation M. Shucksmith, D.L. Brown (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies, Routledge, London (2016), pp. 165-180 View Record in Scopus Bock, 2004 B. Bock Fitting in an multi-tasking: Dutch farm women's strategies in rural entrepreneurship Sociol. Rural., 44 (3) (2004), pp. 245-260 View Record in Scopus Bock and Shortall, 2006 B. Bock, S. Shortall Rural Gender Relations: Issues and Case Studies CABI (2006) Brandth, 2002 B. Brandth gender identity in the European family farming: a literature review Sociol. Rural., 43 (3) (2002), pp. 181-200 View Record in Scopus Brayton, 1997 J. Brayton What Makes Feminist Research Feminist? the Structure of Feminist Research within the Social Sciences Available online at: (1997) Bruni et al., 2004 A. Bruni, S. Gherardi, B. Poggio Entrepreneur-mentality, gender and the study of women entrepreneurs J. Organ. Change, 17 (3) (2004), pp. 256-268 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Burke, 1995 J. Burke Connections Little Brown and Co, Boston (1995) Cahn, 2006 M. Cahn Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, Micro-Enterprise and Culture in the Pacific Islands: Case Studies from Samoa Unpublished Ph.D. thesis Massey University, Palmerston North (2006) Carter et al., 2006 N. Carter, C. Henry, B. Ó Cinnéide, K. Johnston Female Entrepreneurship: Implications for Education, Training and Policy Routledge, New York (2006) Castree et al., 2013 N. Castree, R. Kitchin, A. Rogers A Dictionary of Human Geography Oxford University Press, Oxford (2013) Catley and Hamilton, 1998 S. Catley, R.T. Hamilton Small business development and gender of owner J. Manag. Dev., 17 (1) (1998), pp. 75-82 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Dacin et al., 2010 P.A. Dacin, T. Dacin, Matear Social entrepreneurship: why we don't need a new theory and how we move forward from here Acad. Manag. Perspect., 24 (3) (2010), pp. 37-57 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Dargan and Shucksmith, 2008 L. Dargan, M. Shucksmith Leader and innovation Sociol. Ruralis, 48 (3) (2008), pp. 274-291 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Dax et al., 2016 T. Dax, W. Strahl, J. Kirwan, D. Maye The Leader programme 2007-2013: enabling or disabling social innovation and neo-endogenous development? insights from Austria and Ireland Eur. Urban Reg. Stud., 23 (1) (2016), pp. 56-68 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Deakins and Whittam, 2000 D. Deakins, G. Whittam Business start-up: theory, practice and policy S. Carter, D. Jones-Evans (Eds.), Enterprise and Small Business: Principles, Practice and Policy, Financial Times Prentice-Hall, London (2000) Demossier, 2004 M. Demossier Women in rural France: mediators or agents of Change? Aldershot: Ashgate H. Buller, K. Hoggart (Eds.), Women in the European Countryside (2004), pp. 42-58 View Record in Scopus Dinis, 2006 A. Dinis Rural entrepreneurship: an innovation and marketing perspective Aldershot: Ashgate T. de Noronha, E. Morgan, P. Nijikamp (Eds.), The New European Rurality: Strategies for Small Firms (2006), pp. 157-178 View Record in Scopus Dodgsan and Gann, 2010 M. Dodgsan, D. Gann Innovation: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press, Oxford (2010) European Commission Directorate General for Agriculture, 2000 European Commission Directorate General for Agriculture Women Active in Rural Development Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg (2000) Farmer et al., 2012 J. Farmer, C. Hill, S. Munoz Community Co-production: Social Enterprise in Remote and Rural Communities (2012) Fielden and Davidson, 2010 S. Fielden, M.J. Davidson International Research Handbook on Successful Women Entrepreneurs Edward Elgar, Cheltenham (2010) Forfas, 2007 Forfas Towards Developing an Entrepreneurship Policy for Ireland The National Policy and Advisory Board for Enterprise, Trade, Science, Technology and Innovation, Dublin (2007) Gasson, 1992 R. Gasson Farmers' wives and their contribution to the farm household pluriactivity J. Rural Stud., 8 (1992), pp. 387-397 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Global Report 2008 GEM, London (2007) Godambe, 1982 V.P. Godambe Estimation in survey sampling: ro-business and optimality J. Am. Stat. Assoc., 77 (1982), pp. 393-403 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Haugen, 2004 M.S. Haugen Rural Women's employment opportunities and constraints: the Norwegian case H. Buller, K. Hoggart (Eds.), Women in the European Countryside, Ashgate, Aldershot (2004), pp. 59-82 Hanrahan et al., 2014 Hanrahan, K., Hennessy, T., Kinsella, A., Moran, B., Thorne, F. (2014). Farm Viability- A Teagasc National Farm Survey Analysis. Presented to the National Rural Development Conference, Dublin, Ireland. Hennessy and Moran, 2016 T. Hennessy, B. Moran The Viability of the Irish Farming Sector in 2015 Teagasc, Athenry (2016) Hession, 2009 J. Hession Women in the Modern Workplace: Gender Barriers to Business Start-ups. Newcastle upon Tyne Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2009) Hughes, 1997 A. Hughes Women and rurality: gendered experiences of 'community' in village life P. Milboume (Ed.), Revealing Rural 'Others': Representation, Power and Identity in the British Countryside, Pinter, London (1997), pp. 167-188 View Record in Scopus Hussain and Asad, 2012 B. Hussain, A.Z. Asad A critique on feminist research methodology J. Polit. Law, 5 (4) (2012), pp. 202-207 View Record in Scopus Inhetveen and Schmitt, 2004 H. Inhetveen, M. Schmitt Feminization trends in agriculture: theoretical remarks and empirical findings from Germany H. Buller, K. Hoggat (Eds.), Women in the European Countryside, Ashgate, Aldershot (2004), pp. 83-102 Johnsson-Latham, 2006 G. Johnsson-Latham Do Women Leave a Smaller Ecological Footprint than Men? Swedish Ministry of Sustainable Development, Stockholm (2006) Johnsson-Latham, 2007 G. Johnsson-Latham A Study on Gender Equality as a Prerequisite for Sustainable Development (Report to the Environment Advisory Council, Sweden) (2007) Khanka, 2002 S.S. Khanka Entrepreneurial Development Chand & Company, New Delhi (2002) Landman, 2006 M. Landman Getting quality in qualitative research: a short introduction to feminist methodology and methods Proc. Nutr. Soc., 65 (2006), pp. 429-433 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Leeuwis and van den Ban, 2004 C. Leeuwis, C. van den Ban Communication for Rural Innovation Blackwell, London (2004) Little, 1986 J. Little Gender relations in rural areas: the importance of women's domestic role J. Rural Stud., 3 (4) (1986), pp. 335-342 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Little, 2002 J. Little Rural geography: rural gender identity and the performance of masculinity and femininity in the countryside Prog. Hum. Geogr., 26 (5) (2002), pp. 665-670 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Little and Panelli, 2003 J. Little, R. Panelli Gender research in rural geography Gend. Place Cult., 10 (3) (2003), pp. 281-289 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Lowe et al., 1993 P. Lowe, T. Murdoch, R. Munton, A. Flynn Regulating the new rural spaces: the uneven development of land J. Rural Stud., 9 (1993), pp. 205-222 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus Lukás, 1997 G. Lukás History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics Merlin Press, London (1997) Mahroum et al., 2007 S. Mahroum, J. Atterton, N. Ward, A.M. Williams, R. Naylor, R. Hindle, F. Rowe Rural Innovation, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, Exploration 01 (2007) Markantoni and van Hoven, 2012 M. Markantoni, B. van Hoven Bringing ‘invisible’ side activities to light: a case study of rural female entrepreneurs in the Veenkoniën, The Netherlands J. Rural Stud., 28 (4) (2012), pp. 507-516 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus McClelland et al., 2005 E. McClelland, J. Swail, J. Bell, P. Ibbotson Following the pathway of female entrepreneurs Int. J. Entrepreneurial Behav. Res., 11 (2) (2005), pp. 84-107 CrossRefView Record in Scopus McCright, 2010 A. McCright The effects of gender on climate change knowledge and concern in the american public Popul. Environ., 32 (1) (2010), pp. 66-87 CrossRefView Record in Scopus McDowell, 1992 L. McDowell Doing gender: feminism, feminists and research methods in human geography Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr., 17 (1992), pp. 399-416 CrossRef McDowell, 1993 L. McDowell Space, place and gender relations: Part I. Feminist empiricism and the geography of social relations Prog. Hum. Geogr., 17 (2) (1993), pp. 157-179 CrossRefView Record in Scopus McGehee et al., 2007 N.G. McGehee, K. Kim, G.R. Jennings Gender and motivation for agri-tourism entrepreneurship Tour. Manag., 28 (1) (2007), pp. 280-289 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus McGrath and O'Toole, 2014 H. McGrath, T. O'Toole The Challenges and Opportunities in the Development of Rural Small-to-medium Sized Enterprises Available at: (2014) 19.pdf McNerney and Gillmor, 2005 C. McNerney, D. Gillmor Experiences and perceptions of rural women in the republic of Ireland: studies in the border region Ir. Geogr., 38 (1) (2005), pp. 44-56 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Mishra and Kiran, 2014 G. Mishra, U.V. Kiran Rural women entrepreneurs: concerns and importance Int. J. Sci. Res., 3 (9) (2014), pp. 93-98 View Record in Scopus Murphy and Scott, 2014 E. Murphy, M. Scott ‘After the crash’: life satisfaction, everyday financial practices and rural households in post celtic tiger Ireland J. Rural Stud., 34 (2014), pp. 37-49 ArticleDownload PDFView Record in Scopus O'Brien and Hennessy, 2008 M. O'Brien, T. Hennessy An Examination of the Contribution of Off-farm Income to the Viability and Sustainability of Farm Households and the Productivity of Farm Business Teagasc, Athenry (2008) O'Donoghue, 2015 O’Donoghue, C., 2015. Rural Innovation Survey Results. Presented to the National Rural Development Conference, Limerick, Ireland. O'Connor et al., 2006 M. O'Connor, H. Renting, J. Kinsella The evolution of rural development in Europe and the role of EU policy M. O'Connor (Ed.), The Evolution of Rural Development, Uitgeverij: Van Gorcum (2006) OECD, 1998 OECD Women Entrepreneurs in Small and Medium Enterprises OECD Publishing, Paris (1998) OECD, 2012 OECD Innovation and Modernising the Rural Economy OECD Publishing, Paris (2012) OECD, 2014 OECD Rural Policy Reviews: Innovation and Modernising the Rural Economy OECD Publishing, Paris (2014) Pato, 2015 L. Pato Rural Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Some Successful Women's Initiatives European Regional Science Association (2015) Rogers and DeBoer, 2001 S. Rogers, D. DeBoer Changes in wives' income: effects on marital happiness, psychological well-being, and the risk of divorce J. Marriage Fam., 63 (2001), pp. 473-479 View Record in Scopus Roy, 2012 S. Roy Women entrepreneurs in conserving land: an analytical study at the sundarbans, Bangladesh Can. Soc. Sci., 8 (5) (2012), pp. 125-138 View Record in Scopus Shah et al., 2013 F.S. Shah, T. Nazir, K. Zaman, Z. Shabir Factors affecting the growth of enterprises: a survey of the literature from the perspective of small- and medium-sized enterprises J. Enterp. Transform., 3 (2) (2013), pp. 53-75 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Shortall, 2002 S. Shortall Gender and rural restructuring: a case study of Northern Ireland Sociol. Rural., 36 (2) (2002), pp. 160-176 Steinerowski et al., 2008 A. Steinerowski, S. Jack, J. Farmer Who Are the Social Entrepreneurs and what Do They Actually Do? Babson College, Boston (2008) Tigges and Green, 1994 L. Tigges, G. Green Small business success among men- and women-owned firms in rural areas Sociol. Rural., 59 (2) (1994), pp. 289-310 View Record in Scopus Tunney, 2015 M. Tunney Innovation in Small Business Local Enterprise Office, Dublin (2015) Údarás na Gaeltacht, 2015 Údarás na Gaeltacht An Ghaeltacht Údarás na Gaeltachta (2015) United Nations, 2009 United Nations Decisions by Topic: Rural Development Available United Nations, New York (2009) UNIDO, 2013 UNIDO Empowering Women: Fostering Entrepreneurship Available at: (2013) chure_low_resolution.pdf Verheul and Thurik, 2001 I. Verheul, R. Thurik Start-up-Capital: does gender matter? Small Bus. Econ., 16 (4) (2001), pp. 329-345 View Record in Scopus Warren-Smith and Jackson, 2004 I. Warren-Smith, C. Jackson Women creating wealth through rural enterprise Int. J. Entrepreneurial Behav. Res., 10 (6) (2004), pp. 369-383 CrossRefView Record in Scopus Whatmore et al., 1991 S. Whatmore, P. Lowe, T. Marsden Artisna or Entrepreneur? refreshing rural production S. Whatmore, T. Marsden (Eds.), Rural Enterprise – Shifting Perspectives on Small-scale Production, David Fulton, London (1991) WIRE, 2015 WIRE Networks Available at: (2015) Woods, 2005 M. Woods Rural Geography: Processes, Responses and Experiences in Rural Restructuring Sage, London (2005) World Bank, 2011 World Bank Women in Entrepreneurship Available at: (2011) 1 Although a holistic definition of the term ‘female innovator’ is currently unavailable this study draws upon the definition offered by the Oxford Dictionary. Female innovators are thus women who introduce either new methods, ideas, or products in the form of an enterprise to rural areas. 2 Gaeltacht Regions are defined by Údarás na Gaeltachta (2015) as statutory designated areas of Ireland where the Irish language was/is the vernacular of a substantial number of the local bilingual population. Gaeltacht Regions cover extensive parts of Counties Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry and parts of counties Cork, Meath and Waterford. 3 Údarás na Gaeltachta is a regional authority responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht. Its pivotal task as Keane and Ó Cinnéide note is the ‘promotion of the linguistic, cultural, physical and economic development of the Gaeltacht’ (1986, p. 284). 4 An International two-week festival which encourages people of all age groups to converse through the Irish language through numerous events and activities. © 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.