It is not just about the traditions of scones with jam and cream, country women’s associations from around the world are working together to empower women and improve their rights.
Nearly 700 women from 84 countries have gathered in Melbourne for the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) conference.
The ACWW is the largest international organisation for rural women.
Since 1947, the global network of 9 million women has held consultative status with the United Nations and this year its celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Outgoing world president Ruth Shanks has been coordinating the global organisation, whose headquarters are in London, from her home in Dubbo.
UN recognises rural women
Mrs Shanks said achieving recognition of rural women at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was among her biggest wins.
“Last year in the outcome statement we were able to have a paragraph inserted talking about rural women,” Mrs Shanks said.
“Rural has never been part of the persona of the statement that comes out of the CSW.”
Despite coming from across different continents, the women at the conference found common ground on global issues including family violence.
Mrs Shanks said some issues do not discriminate whether a woman is from a developing country or the western world.
“I mean domestic violence is the biggest issue around the world,” she said.
“Everywhere, every nation, every lady in that room could tell you about domestic violence in their country and it’s terrible.”
The organisation’s work is life-changing. It has funded agriculture, water and sanitation projects across the globe.
Irene Chinje from war-torn Cameroon said the ACWW has helped rural women in her country become more independent and successful.
“ACWW in funding these grassroots women have helped in their empowerment because so many of them have been able to educate their children, they’ve been able to keep their families going,” he said.
Ms Chinje said the organisation has also given a voice to rural women.
“We might be a minority in decision making positions but we contribute because we support the men in what they do,” Ms Chinje said.
“We are trying to ensure that women are part of this decision making.”
Encouraging women of the future
The association is also inspiring the next generation of women.
Emily Harrison is
a member of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) Giffard branch in Victoria and said it is fulfilling that as a CWA member she is part of something bigger.
“An organisation that sits in on United Nations and has a say in world issues and really wants to do something about the state of the world and empowerment for women,” she said.
“It’s nice to know it’s bigger than your local branch, you’re part of something worldwide.”
As a nod to the next generation, the Victorian CWA chose 84 of its junior members to be flag bearers for the conference’s opening ceremony which was also attended by the Queen of Malaysia, the next country to host the conference.
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