To celebrate International Day of Rural Women, Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal’s CEO, Natalie Egleton, writes about the heart of rural communities – women.
As a woman from a country town, who is passionate about rural communities and all they have to offer, I am continually inspired by the women I work with, and their tireless dedication towards a thriving rural Australia.
Last Thursday was the International Day of Rural Women. This annual celebration is a global initiative of UN Women and provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge and appreciate the vital roles that women play in rural communities right across Australia. And let me assure you, they contribute a great deal.
Rural, regional and remote communities in Australia face a litany of challenges not even imagined by their city peers every year. Increasingly, we are recognising that rural women are the backbone of these communities when things get tough – and deservedly so. After all, it’s so often the women who not only keep things ticking along, but constantly look for ways to support and strengthen their local community.
I work with an amazing team of mostly women in regional Victoria and New South Wales to provide grants to rural, regional and remote communities across Australia for projects and initiatives that are led by local people, for local benefit. Of all the people from rural, regional and remote communities that our team have contact with, day to day, we estimate that women make up around 70% of this outreach.
These women so often work tirelessly behind the scenes, playing key roles as community leaders, conduits for bringing local people together to connect and engage with their community, and problem-solvers looking to find ways of strengthening the economic growth and social fabric of rural Australia.
Increasing social cohesion
Isolation is an inherent challenge for those living in rural, regional and remote communities, and finding ways of bringing people together in times of crisis or post-disaster is one of the many amazing skills we’ve witnessed women from these communities demonstrate.
Since 2012, Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) has supported Red Ridge Interior Queensland, an inspiring local organisation that works to bring people from western QLD communities together. One of their standout projects is the annual Channel Country Ladies’ Day. Bringing together women who live up to five hours away from each other, Channel Country Ladies’ Day reignites the inner strength of these country women and equips them with skills and inspiration from business development, to relationship and sexual health, and resources for social and emotional wellbeing. Instead of ‘getting on with things’, these women band together and find solutions that address the difficulties of rural and remote life, which not only helps them, but also their communities, who benefit from the women’s new knowledge and skills.
Another memorable initiative led by women, for women that FRRR has funded, is the Banatjarl Strongbala Wumin’s Grup. This project not only supported women from regional and remote areas of Katherine in the Northern Territory, who completed their Certificate IV in Business Administration, but did so by developing and delivering a training package that was culturally appropriate.
Adapting to COVID-19
Even with COVID-19 added to the list of things that rural and remote communities have to deal with, alongside isolation, drought, floods, bushfire, strained local economies and more, we are still seeing women actively support their communities – they are just adapting and changing the way they go about it. It’s so inspiring to see.
Two women from Gunning in NSW, Margarita and Michelle, had grand plans to showcase their town’s artistic talents, bring the community together and encourage visitors to come as well. When COVID-19 hit and large gatherings were no longer feasible, they worked with the community and turned the festival into an online experience in a matter of days. And it has been a fantastic success!
It goes beyond environmental challenges
With geographic and social isolation comes increased risk to women who may be vulnerable to harm in their homes.
In 2016, women in Charter Towers established the first ever ‘women’s shed’ after a marked increase in domestic violence in the community. Based on the ‘men’s shed’ concept, it was the first ever ‘ shed’ for women in Australia. By taking a simple idea and tweaking it, the women in that region were able to provide a safe space for those who needed help and support with domestic conflict.
FRRR is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Rural women have been the invisible backbone of regional communities for much longer than that. Rural women are incredible. They are strong and capable and confident. They are unflappable, resourceful and driven. They are motivated by justice and equality and access to opportunity. They care deeply about their community and the environment around them. They are innovative and are some of the best placed people to lead change, innovation and advance opportunities in regional areas. So, to all the rural women throughout Australia, and across the globe, we say, “Thank you”.
Natalie Egleton was appointed CEO of FRRR in November 2015, after joining FRRR in 2012, and is responsible for shaping FRRR’s strategy, designing new programs and developing and nurturing new funding partnerships. She is passionate about facilitating effective responses to issues facing rural communities. Natalie lives in the small rural town of Maldon in central Victoria.
The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) was established in 2000 to support the renewal of rural, regional and remote communities in Australia through partnerships with the private sector, philanthropy and governments. Since inception, FRRR has managed the distribution of more than $115 million in grants and provided substantial capacity building support to community organisations across the nation. To find out more about FRRR, visit www.frrr.org.au.