By Tracey Martin NCWQ Rural, Regional & Remote Adviser
Women in rural and regional Queensland are renowned for overcoming the barriers that can inhibit them reaching their potential and limit their achievements or enjoyment of life. Women work to overcome these barriers, not just for themselves but for their families.
To to overcome the challenges of living and working in rural and regional areas women need support from organisations, government and their own approach to developing a collective voice and networking for support. Every day, I witness women from rural and regional areas harnessing what is available to them to project their voice for the benefit of their communities. They are bringing about changes and improvements. They are innovators, business women, community leaders, health care workers, parents and teachers. The list goes on. Some have been in rural and regional areas their whole live, many have travelled and others have joined their community and bring with them a wealth of knowledge and different experiences. They strengthen our State by their economic and personal contributions. They lift-up and support whole communities to recover from disasters and sustain themselves and others through challenging times. Women are the backbone of economies and communities in rural and regional Queensland.
At the beginning of the year there were parts of the State affected by bushfires and another underwhelming wet season that did little to break the drought in many areas. By mid-year, 65% of the state remains drought affected.
The challenges to women reaching their potential in rural and regional Queensland are unique which is why it is essential that we continue to ensure we have a voice and speak up about the needs of rural and regional women and how they are impacted. 2020 has led to entirely new trials in the form of Covid-19 that has impacted many rural and regional women on top of the ongoing disasters of drought, bushfires, flood and difficult economic circumstances. The immediate and swift impacts of Covid-19 was job losses which in rural and regional areas disproportionately affected the employment of women. This has had dreadful impacts on families that they are supporting, increased the already significant under employment of women in rural and regional areas and leaves women and their families at risk financially today and in the long term.
We know that women earn 74% of off-farm income and the loss of job or their businesses being impacted due to Covid-19 – coupled with the additional childcare requirements (boarders returned home during lockdown) has negatively affected rural and regional women, their families and rural and regional businesses and industries in 2020. The job losses risk remaining for the long term if economic initiatives are not targeted to address women’s employment and underemployment in rural and regional areas including access to corporate and professional roles. Support for the care economy in rural and regional areas is essential to ensure that they can deliver the services under difficult conditions.
As we turn our mind to the recovery, we are keen to ensure that women in rural and regional areas are not left behind. ‘Shovel-ready’ initiatives do not address the job losses of women which risk becoming long-term if specific initiatives are not implemented by government at the local level. Women in rural and regional areas can underpin rural and regional economic recovery and growth through their contributions. When harnessed through their economic participation, women strengthen agriculture and associated industries and support the economy and businesses during difficult times – such as drought and other natural disasters. As mentioned above, drought is ongoing and risks affecting essential industries such as agriculture. Women support rural businesses through tough times – but this has been stripped away due to Covid-19 job losses thereby weakening the entire sector.
Rural and regional areas were delighted with the support provided to quickly ensure connectivity and telehealth. These were game changers for rural and regional areas and we hope and trust they will remain during and after the Covid-19 recovery. They address the disparity in services and on the health and wellbeing front – we hope they will improve the life expectancy and health outcomes that are poorer than those dwelling in the cities. What did become increasingly clear was that rural and regional Australia was comparatively well acquainted with isolation and limited services, such that adapting was possible when the Covid-19 lock-downs occurred. With agriculture continuing as an essential services we saw our rural and regional areas be highlighted for the always crucial role in providing food for the country. As mentioned above, women underwrite to a large degree the resilience of agriculture businesses. Tailored and specific consideration is needed for the needs of rural and regional families and businesses when decisions are being made about lockdown and/ or the lifting of restrictions. I am personally inspired by how rural and regional women have responded this year to the ongoing challenges and hope that we can continue to be a voice such that women are considered and harnessed during the recovery of our State from Covid-19 and not left behind.