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We need to invest more in rural women even after international rural women’s day

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Do you know what day it is?

We all know March 8 is International Women’s Day. We are all across IDAHOBIT Day and Harmony Day and International Day of the Girl Child. And so we should be – each of these days, and many others, are incredibly important. They serve as a reminder to us all that there is a lot to be done in the name of equality and that there are many people and groups of individuals who deserve more appreciation than they are usually given.

One day that is often overlooked, however, is the International Day of Rural Women.

I grew up in an Australian regional town and have spent a great deal of my life traipsing around regional places. Whether I was simply hanging out in my local community, visiting family out on the farm or going on a camping holiday in regional areas, my childhood was a rolling slide show of beaches, paddocks, small town bakeries (no place does a better salad roll!) and, there’s no way around it, women.

Women were everywhere. They were making coffees in the local café. They were organising local beach clean-ups. They were running workshops at the Community House, organising car-pools in and out of town and running businesses that contributed a great deal to the local economy.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR), works with a team of mostly women in regional Victoria and New South Wales, who work to administer grants and offer support to rural, regional and remote communities across Australia. FRRR knows first-hand what amazing leaders women make – Natalie is the Foundation’s third successive female CEO.

“We estimate that women make up around 70% of the people from rural, regional and remote communities that our team have contact with, day to day. Women also play important roles for many of the donor partners that the Foundation works with. Women work tirelessly behind the scenes, so it’s important that we take a moment to celebrate and acknowledge their vital contribution to the strength and vibrancy of their communities,” Natalie said.

2020 has been a particularly trying year for countries across the globe. For regional women in Australia, COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the challenges that come with living in remote regions and has introduced new ones as well.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the impact that isolation can have on mental health and demonstrates why social connectedness, particularly during times of crisis, is so important for the mental wellbeing of those living in rural communities. Travel restrictions and border closures due to the pandemic have also created additional hurdles when it comes to trying to gain equitable access to goods and services such as healthcare, education and digital literacy,” Natalie explained.

However, the team at FRRR have also seen some incredible innovation in regional communities that is largely being driven by women.

“We continued to be inspired by the resilience and determination of rural communities across Australia. We see women step up as community leaders to face challenges, like COVID-19, head on, every day. Women like Margarita Georgiadis and Dr Michelle Storey PSM in Gunning, New South Wales, who originally had grand plans of showcasing the artistic talents of their regional community with a face-to-face Arts Festival. Sadly, COVID-19 restrictions came into effect shortly before the Festival was meant to go ahead. But within an extremely short period, these women worked with their team and managed to get the entire Festival up and running online. And it has been a fantastic success! This is just one example of the great things that we see rural and regional women managing to achieve each day,” Natalie said.

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.

So, this year, on the International Day of Rural Women and beyond, do something to show your appreciation for these amazing ladies. Buy something from a small business in a regional area. Get your fruit and veg from a farmers’ market. Donate some money to local organisations that do good work in regional areas that are either run by women or for women. Remind yourself that it’s often the women who keep everything else going while industry gets on with business. And maybe, put a reminder in your calendar for next year.

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