THE roles women play in rural, regional and remote communities around Australia will be celebrated today on the United Nations International Day of Rural Women.
It is estimated that one third of Australian women live in rural and regional communities, and their contribution to local communities and agriculture in general is often underestimated.
Standout moments from the recent Women in Australian Agribusiness forum.
Westpac head of agribusiness Susan Bower understands first-hand the important role women play in these communities, having been associated with agriculture her whole life.
Growing up on her family’s beef cattle property in the Hunter Valley, NSW, she developed a passion for the agricultural industry from a very young age and always knew she wanted to be ‘hands on’ in agriculture throughout her career.
“Women play an increasingly influential role in every aspect of rural Australia – they share a passion for a viable and sustainable future for Australian agriculture, and they are making important decisions about things like succession planning, financial management, and keeping the family unit strong,” Ms Bower said.
“The International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to recognise the critical role women play in building strong, sustainable rural communities and also reflect on what more we can do to support rural women in this role.”
Winner of the 2014 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award, Pip Job, a beef farmer and mother of two, also knows from hands-on experience the challenges facing rural women and their families. And as CEO of the Little River Landcare Group, she has an opportunity to improve best practice land management.
“I couldn’t work out why farmers weren’t adopting best practice in Landcare, or why they would start and then stop as soon as a challenge arose,” she explains. “I realised that often a social problem created a barrier to progress. It could be mental health, or issues with family communication, or feelings of isolation, or business literacy.”
This idea led to a new initiative, Positive Farming Footprints, which aims to develop a social audit tool to help farming families overcome those social barriers.
Farming businesses are quite unique in that the family unit is also the business unit. “You’re living in the business as well as working in it, you can't close the door on it at the end of the day,” Ms Job explains.
“There are typically just two people – usually a couple, mum and dad, maybe a son or daughter or another worker, and that’s it. They’re only exposed to each other’s way of thinking, and for a business to succeed you need different perspectives, and you need to draw on energy from elsewhere.”
She said that while many farmers have sound financial literacy, they don’t necessarily know what the key drivers of their business are, and that’s where business management literacy becomes so essential.
“Rainfall is not a key driver of business success, yet that’s what I hear all too often,” she said.
“What drives our success is the decisions we make,” she says. “Well-informed strategic decisions mean you can plan early, ahead of crisis events, and you can stick to that plan. You can't live on hope.”
For Positive Farming Footprints, Ms Job has spent the past six months researching the best tools and resources around the world to develop a social program for education. She said while there are many resources available, each works in isolation, so she hopes to create a social audit tool to help farming families identify where potential weaknesses, and what they can do to overcome them.
Ms Bower said Ms Job’s drive and commitment highlight the leading role women play in rural and regional communities. “It takes a lot of hard work and determination to succeed. You need to be prepared for every opportunity or challenge that arises - and have the capacity within your business to make the right decisions.”
As Platinum Sponsor of the RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards and a supporter of farming families and agribusiness for more than 197 years, Westpac is proud to back women in agriculture.
The Country Women’s Association (CWA) of NSW also acknowledged the valuable role of women in rural communities in Australia and overseas on the International Day of Rural Women.
“The history of the CWA in NSW alone tells us that women have always played a huge role in developing rural communities,” president of CWA NSW Tanya Cameron said.
“Historically in Australia and still today in many international communities, men are dominant in agricultural environments but the work of women is critical although often overlooked.”
“The UN International Day of Rural Women is a good reminder to look around us and recognise the work that women do to contribute to sustainable agriculture and thriving rural communities – and to see what more we can do to support women in this role.”
The CWA of NSW plays an active role supporting rural women in the South Pacific Islands and has done for many years. Each year the CWA of NSW sends hundreds of Mother Baby Packs to women in the Pacific Islands, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. These kits are used by women giving birth in remote locations, far from medical facilities and includes items such newborn baby clothes, nappies, bunny rugs, and a nightie, underwear and bath towel for the mother.
In addition, each year approximately 20 women’s organisations in the South Pacific Islands are sent three village packs over a period of 12 months. These packs include reams of material, cotton, scissors and other items required to make dresses and other items of clothing. Regular education scholarships are also provided for women to provide extra schooling and to build their agricultural skills.
Jenny Mitchell OAM, past president of CWA of NSW and previous South Pacific Area President of the Associated Country Women of the World, has seen the impact this kind of support for women can have in rural communities first hand.
“The statistics tells us that women are responsible for much of the work in rural areas globally,” said Mrs Mitchell, who lives in North Star, 100 kilometres north of Moree, NSW.
She has spent many years travelling to the South Pacific as part of a team of women working to up skill local rural women.
“I have seen villages in the South Pacific completely turnaround from being hostile places to being peaceful and productive when the women have been provided with the skills to grow food, sew clothes and other items and earn their own money.
“The women do the bulk of the work in these rural villages and when they are better skilled, these communities really blossom.”
The United Nations acknowledges that empowering women is essential for the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities but is also boosts productivity because of women’s large presence in the agricultural workforce worldwide.
The UN International Day of Rural Women celebrates and honours the role of rural women on 15 October each year. It recognises rural women’s importance in enhancing agricultural and rural development worldwide.