"I remember when I began to understand about putting out my hand.
It was in 1994 Melbourne Australia at the International Conference of Women in Agriculture. Heather Mitchell the first woman president of a farmer's organisation in Australia gave us some advice.
"Put your hand out" she said.
"In greetings, welcome newcomers, and bring other women with you, so that when your time is up, there will be many women to take your place. My only regret" she said "after my 4 years as President, was that there were no women to follow."
Thank-you to the Irish Farmer's Association for putting your hand out, across the sea, to invite we Australian farm women to attend this conference.
My talk today is in 3 parts.
First - Australian women in agriculture; who we are,
Second - what we do,
Finally - what we have learnt that may help you to move 'fast forward'.
1. Women in agriculture in Australia - who we are and what we do?
Australian Women in Agriculture is a big topic. Like women in Ireland. It's impossible to generalise about half the population. We are not a homogenous group. We have different interests, are different ages, levels of education, skills and have different reasons for being in agriculture. We have different routes to farming; some women married men who where farmers, others are daughters of farmers and inherited the farm, some have bought their own farm, others are managers, or skilled labour, some are widows or retired from active farming and are now leasing the land. We come in all shapes and sizes. Take my mother for example.
My mother was the eldest daughter of farmers. Her family have been farming in Australia for 4 generations. After she and dad married they bought a dairy farm. Dad was 'the farmer' and Mum, proudly the Farmer's Wife. Everyone called it Paul's farm, his farm.
Mum always said that she 'didn't work' although she did all the "looking after" of us 13 children. She cultivated an extensive vegetable garden, hens, geese and turkeys. She made jams and preserved fruit from the large orchard. She made clothes, grew flowers and was active in the local community. Many here today would recognise this role - the farmer's wife.
I am the 4th child in this large family. I trained as a teacher. When I was in my late 20's decided to buy my own farm. I now grow merino sheep for wool and have a small walnut orchard. I also have 'paid' work running training programs for farm women which is funded by the Australian dairy and horticulture industries.
About 10 years ago I went back to study and did my Masters Degree in Agriculture and Rural Development. For my thesis I studied the role & work of women in agriculture.
Through my study I came to understand that my mother did "work". She worked all her life. My study helped me understand that women's work is often invisible. And that particularly the work of women in farming is invisible. That their work is rarely counted. (And this is one of the very significant things Australian Women in Agriculture have done - we have counted our work and made it visible.)
I learnt that in Australia there are approximately 120,000 farm businesses, 96% of these farms are family businesses. Australia has a total population of 20 million people and farmers are 12% of the total. The Census in 1996 showed that one third of all farm managers were women and approximately 30% of the farm work force is female.
Through my study I also came to understand the division of labour that occurs on many farms. There is men's work and women's work. The dividing line is what we in Australia refer to, as the house paddock fence. When I was growing up, outside this fence was Dad's territory - his cattle, his sheep, his fields, his crops, his machinery, hay sheds, his pasture. His work - his farm. And when farm work was counted it was this outside work which was counted, it was called productive, it was called farming. He was called a farmer.
Inside the fence was Mum's territory. Her vegetable and flower garden, her hen house, her eggs, her house and importantly - the manufacturing center of our existence - her kitchen.
Through my study I came to understand that Mum did work as a farmer's wife. And while her work was not counted in the census, was not called work and was not thought to be productive - it was very important work. It was important to her, to us, to our farm business, to our community and to our national economy.
"Adding together the value of farm women's on-farm contribution, their off-farm wage income and the value of household, volunteer and community work, women contribute 48% of total real farm income. This contribution was worth almost $14 billion in 1995-96; $4 billion in on-farm work, $1 billion in off-farm work, over $8 billion in household work and almost mce_marker.5 billion in volunteer and community work." (source: Missed Opportunities report, Vol 2 p 53. RIRDC 1998)
Through my study I came to understand the importance of language. "It's my farm" says an old man. "I farm by myself." The young woman asks. "What not married? no children " However there are very few single men farmers in Australian with 96% of farms being family farms. The term farmer - 'he' - hides all the other people, women and children who work on a farm. Farm family, farm family business or farming partnerships, are more accurate terms.
Images are also important. Agricultural publications have a very important role to play in making women and their work, more visible. Images of women working in agriculture should be in the news section of the Farm Journal, rather than tucked away in 'women's or social sections' in section 2.
People ask me - "are you a farmer Cathy?" I find it a hard question to answer.
What is a farmer? I own my land. I earn good money from the sale of my wool. I also have off-farm income which is related to agriculture and farming. I am active in my rural community. I am a member of our farmer's organisation. I even have a vegetable and flower garden. But - can a woman be a farmer?
A relative of mine ( male farmer) was very shocked when first he heard that I had bought a farm. We were at a farmer's meeting.
"You're not a farmer Cathy" he said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"You'll never be a farmer because you cannot lift a fly blown wether onto the back of a ute." He was implying that as a woman I didn't have the strength to be a farmer.
And a local woman farming friend came to my rescue.
"Of course Cathy's a farmer" she said. "She'll farm in such a way that her sheep won't get fly struck."
And I knew then that I could be a farmer. I am a different sort of farmer to my relative. I don't have his strength but I can use my mind and skills to farm. After all I am a woman. And I do both inside and outside work. And I knew then, that women - would bring new skills to farming, to agriculture. We had and have an important role to play, and vital contribution to make. I believe that without the active involvement of women, agriculture will be unsustainable.
Many women in agriculture in Australia are like me - we wear many hats. We have many roles. We are farmers and more. We think the term Women in Agriculture is a much better way of describing the diversity of our work, our roles and our lives. We have called our organisation Australian Women in Agriculture (On the web: www.awia.org.au). We have many different responsibilities and jobs - researchers, journalists, scientists, managers, sales people, students, workers. Not to forget being mothers, wives, aunts, sisters, neighbours, community builders. Our passion is food and fibre.
2. Women in Agriculture in Australia: what have we done.
In 1994 we held the first ever international conference of women in agriculture. Over 850 participants from 35 countries. We became seriously organised. We became visible to ourselves. We became visible to policy makers, industry groups and to the media. We found our voice.
A major outcome of this conference was the decision by our Commonwealth Government to establish a Women's Unit in Canberra within the Department of Agriculture. We also have these units in each of our state departments of agriculture. The staff in these units produce newsletters and other forms of communication. They make sure that women's voices are heard within the bureaucracy. They help us understand how government works. They communicate with us.
Our universities and places of tertiary and further education started to run courses for women - women on farm skills courses became very popular. These academic institutions did research and held conferences. We made links with women researchers in other countries - Dr Sally Shortall from Queens University was a great inspiration. We counted our work. We published the results. We became visible in the statistics.
We took up the theme of "Bloom Where You are Planted" and got organised within our own communities. We held local, state and regional Gatherings of Farm Women. We networked.
AWiA is the key to our organisation. It
- is an incorporated company,
- there are members in every state
- has one annual general meeting and 2 general meetings
- 650 members
- elected board of 9 directors, who met monthly by teleconference
- a national president, treasurer, secretary are the only office holders
- reference groups which are focused around issues (no local branches)
- works mainly by networking, email and newsletter "The Buzz"
- employs a part time administrator
- contracts with Government to 'do things'
- supports it members through awards, scholarships and education opportunities
- I am the immediate past president of AWiA
We also have financial and 'inkind support from agribusiness and industry groups. They see the need to increase the participation of women in their areas of responsibility. Sponsorship for our events comes from banks and agribusinesses including superannuation companies.
Governments too are great supporters. Through the "units' and the various equity processes, women in agriculture continue to work to have our views acknowledged. Agricultural research programs have been very important in enabling us to research women's work, to consult with farm and agricultural women, to run conferences and to write reports of our work.
The rural media has been another great friend to women in agriculture. Many rural journalists are members of AWiA and they ensure that women farmers are interviewed, their opinions recorded, their pictures taken and our voices are heard.
3. And What Works. What have we learnt?
That women's work is important. We have learnt that women are ok as they are: Be it a farmer's wife, a farmer, a farm labourer, a woman married to a farmer and her off-farm income being used to support the farm business, a farmer's daughter working on the farm. The system has to change, rather than women changing. We don't want women becoming like men, or vise versa.
We have learnt there is no "one" place or role for women. Women's place is where ever women are, and where ever they want to be. On the farm, in the house, in the kitchen, on the tractor, in parliament, in the milking parlor.
We have learnt that we need to share information between each other and between our groups. That the internet and email in particular, has been our most useful tool. We also use the radio for sharing information. We have learnt that we have a strong voice and important things to say.
We put out hands out to each other - in greeting; to welcome the newcomers and to ask others to come with us. If we are going to a meeting - its so much nicer to ring a neighbour and travel together rather than go by yourself. Plus there are the benefits of the sharing information before hand and the debriefing afterwards.
We are solutions focused - practical and pragmatic.
We have learnt that language is important.
We have learnt that is is very important to say how things really are. Not to pretend. To take off the mask of 'being nice'. To tell the truth about our lives and our work. To say these things at home, and also within our farmer organisations, to government. Then it is important to say how these things could be improved.
There are two main areas where AWiA has played a major role: Education and policy development.
Education: As an organisation AWiA has worked to give its members access to relevant education and skills training. For women, by women with women.
Women on farms skills courses have been very popular. In a local hall, with professional child care for our children, a small group of women meet to learn from each other about calving, reversing tractors, technical aspects of fencing, of fixing small motors, about pasture renovation. Public speaking, using the internet and computers, writing a personal resume, or a media release and assertiveness skills have all been popular courses.
We have run leadership courses to support and skill women to confidently take roles within their industry organisations. (Public speaking, chairing a meeting, writing minutes, duties of a company director, international trade, exporting, understanding agripolitical issues). Marketing and business skills courses have also been popular.
Policy Development: Accurate research and relevant data provides the backbone of all our lobbying. AWiA members work closely with our Rural Women's Networks (Units) to access Government and make sure the implications of policy on women are understood. We hold major national forums on relevant issues. Once a year on International Women's Day March 8th, we go to Canberra to meet with our politicians to discuss issues which are important to us. We run workshops on 'advocacy and lobbying skills', on getting our message across.
Farmer Organisation. One of the main barriers to women's full participation in our farmer's organisations was the voting rules. These rules limited voting to one vote to each farming enterprise. Where there was a family farm it was traditionally the male farmer who voted. Women were not involved, they didn't vote, their opinions were not listened to. Following our advocacy, most of our farmer organisations now have a system of multiple votes allowing for women and also interested children to participate in a more democratic way. This has bought new enthusiasm and new ideas to our farmer organisations. Our national organisation has set itself a target of 30% of leading positions to be held by women by 2005.
In closing: A most sincere thanks to our hosts who have looked after us during our visit to Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary and Meath. We have enjoyed your hospitality, you food, your company, your sense of humour. You have opened your homes and hearts to us. Thank you.
Invitation to Australia: We would like to repay your hospitality. We would love for you to visit Australia - can I suggest World Rural Women's Day in Australia in 2004 ?
The 4th International Conference of Women in Agriculture is planned to take place in Africa in 2006. It would be wonderful to join with you at that meeting. Perhaps even to dream of having the 5th International Conference, after Africa, here in Ireland in 2008.
Finally my request is that you encourage and support each other to bloom where you are planted. There are over 550 of us here today at Croke Park. Imagine the impact we could have if each of us "put our hand out to another - as a greeting, as a welcome, and as an invitation." That indeed would enable us to move "Fast Forward."