NCWQ Rural, Regional & Remote Women Annual Report: 2020

By Tracey Martin NCWQ Rural, Regional & Remote Adviser

(photo credit: https://www.qt.com.au/news/online-series-empowers-women-in-rural-communities)

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.

NCWQ Rural, Regional and Remote Women Report: February 2014

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By Beryl Spencer, NCWQ State Coordinator

Rural and Remote Women Adviser

From drought to flooding rain and back again.  It is a cycle of life and weather in this wonderful and ever changing Nation of ours.  With drought still covering over 70% of our state, in reality the long term impacts on not only the land but also the lives of many rural families will be felt for years to com. The rain will come again and water and wonderful regeneration will initiate “overnight” growth of grass in land that has been long rested, the real challenge is though that lives take so much longer to experience return to normal.  Some families have already had to ‘walk away’ from generations of establishing their properties and nurturing their land.  It has all become too much for some.  Following are some comments from across the inland:

  • ·         “There are reports on a regular basis of individual situations in the bush from lack of water, to no feed, to pressure from banks with many of our families being stretched to breaking point.  There is such a cry coming from the people of the Outback and we know that our job this year is bigger than we would have originally comprehended.   The need to get aid in the way of food hampers and toiletries to these families or even a voucher to use at their local stores is greater than ever.”
  • ·         Cunnamulla: ‘The 10kg bags of rice & catering size cans of peach/apple pie filling etc have been gratefully received beyond our expectations.  Because the difficult financial situations many are experiencing this donation could not have come a better time.
  • ·         The costs involved in purchasing hay, cotton seed etc to keep stock alive are almost unbelievable with amounts of $20-40,000 monthly commonly stated.  Even those that in the past have said “We are doing OK; there are others far worse off than us. Give it to them” have readily accepted goods.
  • ·         What an eye opener and a heart string puller we experienced whilst visiting some of the properties in the Cunnamulla area. Some of the comments spoken to us include:  “I`ve been raising cattle for 50 years and if there isn`t rain then I am going to have to make some very hard decisions.
  • ·         “Just recently I was within a hairsbreadth of giving up”
  • ·          “The Warrego River has broken the record for the length of time it is since there has been a flow in the river. The water that is left is unsuitable for irrigation and causing problems for our crop of grapes”
  • ·          ” I have never lost so many sheep in a drought as I have this time”
  • While farmers are thankful assistance is finally on its way, most have said it’s too little, too late.
    Farming families in Coonamble who’ve had to sell or put down their livestock, say it’s been dry for months. They fear the entire town could collapse.
  • Re the promise of Government assistance: Too little to late
    already too many animals have died, too many farmers have done suicide!
  • Right now, our family property is in an EXTREMELY bad place.. My family are making very hard choices right now. (This refers to having to sell off the young stock)
    The drought, the economic collapse, everything is working against us to make life almost unbearable…Except for taking joy in the ‘little things’ in our case, some little things are such huge victories that I just want to dance. 
    Here is one such little thing. Remember my prolapsed cow? I had to bring her down from the back paddock and dad operated on her in the tiniest hope that she would recover and calve safely. Well here she is! Against all odds she fought the biggest battle, against infection, disease, weakness, and illness, and she gave birth alone without help, and after 2 weeks is still here, happy and contented raising her tiny baby calf all by herself!! 
    Oh and while I was getting ready to go find her the temp dropped a few degrees, and I rode out on the bike, getting just a little bit damp! Those specks you see in the photo are hopeful spits of rain. The skies were clear while it fell, and it has stopped now, nothing measurable in the rain gauges, but still, it is like liquid hope falling from the sky… perhaps a little more tomorrow.

At the risk of bring only bad news, there are some beautiful stories too, and the work of Baked relief and QRRRWN (and all involved) has become a glimmer of hope, a life line to many.  While Baked relief is delivering food and some personal needs other farmers is providing fodder to starving cattle.  It has become a combined effort and lifting the emotions of farmers across the country.  Some of the beautiful verses written by city children to their country cousins have just been so beautiful.  They really are making a difference. In neither the South Burnett area many who have barely recovered from the devastating floods are nor supporting the drought relief.  One lady commented: “it is when you help others that your own problems seem less and you feel so good about it.”

I said at the beginning that the impacts  would last for years to  come, and they will but  these gifts of hope are softening the pain for so many and I  believe to  degree, will lessen the emotional impacts on health.

Rain is now falling in some areas but it is still scattered.  Many hope that this will start to break up what has been a devastating drought pattern across the state.

 Baked Relief & QRRRWN. https://www.facebook.com/bakedrelief   and http://www.qrrrwn.org.au/

A few tears as our last #lovetothewest for this round is loaded into the truck bound for Tara. The guys at St George Freightlines are our heroes.

https://www.facebook.com/voiceofthebush. Here is a challenging link to have a look at how the drought areas are going.

Another good news story:

A note from RFDS (Royal Flying Dr Services): “We are significantly expanding our social and emotional well-being program in recent years, particularly towards Longreach and the areas affected by the drought.  We are also providing a lot of women’s health programs ‘in Western and Northern QLD, where there are very few female GP’S.” http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/

Key Issues that impact Financially

  • ·         One other key issue for the Agriculture sector remains the dumping of produce in this nation.  Some coming directly from Europe, Asia and some via Asia through New Zealand and marketed as New Zealand when the origin of much of it is very unsafe production in Asian Countries.  New Zealand negotiated a free trade agreement with China quite some time ago and this has enabled this dumping to further impact on Australian agriculture. Italy and Europe are also dumping vegetable foods on Australia.  

Some of the impediments faced by Agriculture in QLD:

  • Costs of pumping water   Electricity & Diesel
  • Bank interest

Key Health Issues:

  • Mental health and financial stress
  • Access to allied health and diagnosis
  • Ageing and Disability
  • Travel and other expenses of treatment

What can be done?

These issues and impacts for QLD Regional and Remote Families  are, I believe, beyond  Local, or State approach, I believe that there  is a desperate need for National approach to managing  the drought an flood cycles in our Nation to better provide food and financial stability for the whole nation.