Never be afraid to be the only woman in the room. A hard take in Australian Agriculture but today, on the International Day of Rural Women, I’m reminded of how far women in agriculture have come, and how much things have changed for women who want to work on the land.
Like just about every industry in just about every country in the world, women in agriculture still have a way to go in achieving gender equality.
According to the United Nations, women make up to 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, yet they face significant discrimination when it comes to owning land and livestock or getting equal pay.
While things in Australia might be a little different, women in agriculture still, in 2021, must fight to be treated equally and fairly.
Growing up in Orroroo in South Australia, I always knew I wanted to be a farmer. But when I first started working in agriculture, straight out of school in the late 90s, being a woman wanting to work on a farm not owned by your husband or father was highly unusual.
It wasn’t until 1994 that women in Australia could even be legally recognised as farmers in their own right.
I started working at a time when people were still allowed to advertise just for jackaroos and wouldn’t take applications from women because they didn’t have living quarters “suitable” for them. Or whatever other excuse they could come up with.
When I finally landed a job as a jillaroo, a lot of the men viewed me with suspicion while women thought I was an ‘acre chaser’ and wouldn’t let their sons too close. Almost all didn’t take me seriously. I often didn’t get the same opportunities as the men I worked with, and I didn’t know any women working on the land to act as mentors or role models.
I have been subjected to sexual harassment and bullying, but none of that was enough to dampen the fact that I love the land, I love working with animals and I wanted to be a farmer.
Over the years, I have watched things slowly change. Women became less invisible, and their important role on farms and in the agricultural industry became increasingly recognised.
I’ve seen more women studying agriculture and pursuing livelihoods in farming and many other parts of the agricultural industry. I’ve seen more women choose to farm in their own right and to be recognised as competent farmers. And in my previous role as the Secretary of Australian Women in Agriculture, I’ve seen amazing women accomplish things in agriculture that as little as 30 years ago wouldn’t have been considered possible. A salesman doesn’t dare turn up at my door and ask if the boss is at home now!
In my role as an author of rural fiction, I’ve always championed women on the land, trying to break down isolation barriers for rural women because I myself felt isolated for too long. I believe it’s the duty of any woman who has a public platform to use it to tell the stories of women, to give them a voice and to lift them up. For me, this means writing about strong, capable rural women who love the land.
Never be afraid to be the only woman in the room.
Fear can be an inhibitor – or it can be a motivator. We can harness that fear and turn it into something great. We might be the first to do something in our family, in our community, in our gender, in our industry. But our job is to make sure we are never the last.
I think all women in agriculture need to play their part in changing the narrative of what a farmer is, so that future generations of female farmers and agricultural workers get the recognition they deserve.