What an amazing Friday night in! No need for makeup, no high heeled shoes and luckily no little black dress…..I suspect it no longer fits anyway! Last Friday night I participated in an international rural women’s forum from the comfort of my own desk chair!
As an Australian farmer the strength and support I feel from being part of a rural women’s network is invaluable. The very nature of farming dictates that you are often working in isolation. For many of us this is the appeal of farming but at the same time it also poses us with our greatest challenges.
Enter the rural women’s networks in all their forms.
My own experience has exposed me to several of these over the years. My dear Grandma, 56 kms from the nearest town and 4 kms from her nearest neighbour, was a member of the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA) during the sixties and seventies. For the past 90 years the CWA’s aim has been to improve conditions for women and children in rural and remote Australia.
For my Grandma it was more than a place to share a monthly cup of tea. It was a forum to share experiences of the challenges faced by women alone on their farms – medical emergencies, weather disasters, child rearing and the loneliness. In addition the QCWA lobbies government and provides women with a voice to bring about positive changes to communities both here and abroad. As far back as the sixties Grandma was the International Officer of her local branch.
For me the Queensland Rural, Regional & Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN), the Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) and the National Rural Women’s Network (NRWN) provide a similar level of support but we communicate in a different way. Gone are the telegrams of my Grandma’s era. The rural women’s networks I am part of can respond rapidly to the needs of their members. Access to the internet, Skype, twitter, Facebook or the simple telephone ensures we are a mere touch away from the latest information or a listening ear for support. Transfer of information and education of members is a speedy and dynamic process. Women in rural and remote regions of Australia are linked in ways never before possible.
Friday night, March 2nd, marked another milestone for rural women. In an amazing demonstration the National Rural Women’s Coalition showcased the international potential of its new National Rural Women’s Network at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The live webinar linked women across the world sharing how a rural women’s network could operate and help support the focus of the Commission for this year: The empowerment of Rural Women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.
Imagine the power of a network that can link women farmers in Australia with women farmers the world over.
My visit late last year to Katakwi in Eastern Uganda, with ActionAid Australia, taught me some important facts. The first is that sharing technical knowledge between farmers who have that knowledge and farmers that need it is critical to bringing about change. The second is the power of a support network. The Reflect Circle we spent time with in Olilim had empowered its members, the local women, way beyond their initial expectations. They convened 10 years ago to learn basic literacy and numeracy. They now concentrate on their rights as women.
Consider what could happen if a virtual network could connect the rural women of Olilim’s Reflect Circle with rural women in Australia. Then imagine if women farmers across the world joined in!
There are still practical issues that need to be overcome. Time zones are a difficulty – but many Australian women wrapped in their dressing gowns joined the webinar at 2.30 am last Friday night. Computer and internet access are not a reality for the women of Olilim, but they do have mobile phones and a network. The ActionAid office, 30 kms away, is online.
The woman of the CWA overcame the tyranny of distance and communication in 1922. And today we can overcome the challenges facing the rural women in developing countries becoming part of an online international rural women’s network because the power of a rural women’s network is at once a magnificent and formidable force.