Milestone marks success in agriculture

Kate PollardThe West Australian

Getting agriculture on the national curriculum, women on boards and governments to focus on agriculture are some of the challenges that Australian Women in Agriculture uses its influence in Canberra to address.

Meeting recently in Albany for the national conference and to mark the 20th anniversary, the group of grassroots women from across Australia had plenty to talk about.

They have grown from being farmer's wives into a group of women involved in agribusiness.

They also meet the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry twice a year to review the budget and see as many politicians as possible.

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It was a big step, AWiA president Marion Rak said.

"It means we have a voice and are able to put our issues forward, and see what effect the budget is going to have on us as rural people," she said.

A key focus of the group is to give rural women a voice through leadership training programs and an alliance with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rural Women's Award.

In the past three years, AWiA has trained 60 women under 25 years of age in leadership and decision-making, as well as technology courses and land care.

They also mentor members in the skills needed to take their issues directly to Canberra and the relevant minister.

In addition, the group provides support to women during times of drought, fire and flood. "The challenges now for women in agriculture are the policies the Government put to us," Mrs Rak said.

She said AWiA aimed to make agriculture the flavour of the month, every month, and to encourage the Government to talk up the industry.

Greater understanding between city and country populations was another challenge AWiA faced.

Alana Johnson, RIRDC Rural Women's Award winner in 2010, said there were several challenges that need to be looked at.

Women on Government appointed boards made up around 38 per cent, but on industry appointed boards, it was as little as 10 per cent.

Mrs Johnson said the issue was not just about getting women a seat on the table.

"There also needs to be a focus on everyday lives of women involved in agriculture," she said.

"We know women's lives on farms and family life can be incredibly stressful.

"There are a lot of stressed worried women putting everyone else first.

"We know the incidences of domestic violence increase when natural disasters occur and we have seen that in rural Australia with the incidence of floods and fires."

Mrs Johnson said women in regional Australia needed better basic services and support.

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