Celebrating Our Rural Women

By Sophie Stanley

The 15th of October marks International Day of Rural Women, a day that recognises the significant contribution that women make to agriculture and rural development. While it’s not likely that the rural women in your life will get a day off to sleep in and put their feet up, we want to take a moment to give a shout out to all the awesome rural women across the globe who play such an important role in the industry.

Rural women make up a quarter of the world’s population, and in developing countries – where agriculture is critical for supporting and feeding their families – they make up 43% of the agricultural labour force.

The changing face of agriculture

While we may be a world away from this, rural women in New Zealand and Australia still make up a significant part of the agricultural economy. Many Kiwi and Australian women play a huge role in the financial management of farms, and are a key part of the traditional farming partnership.

And our female rural workforce is growing. Lincoln University agricultural courses have seen a 10% increase in female enrolments, taking the female student population to just over 51% – the first time the women have outnumbered males. Interestingly, the Telford campus, which specialises in agricultural training, has seen dramatic growth in female student numbers, from 16% in 2010 to 50% in 2015.

Honouring rural women in our own backyard

In every rural community, there are so many great examples of women who are balancing family life, careers, and community commitments to achieve great things. Rural communities thrive on the commitment and dedication of these women, however they’re not often great at stepping forward and acknowledging their success.

Empowering women to take up positions of leadership is critical to the success of the industry, and we’re already seeing more and more amazing women being recognised for their achievements.

Last year I had the honour of being on the judging panel for the 2014 Enterprising Rural Women Award, on behalf of sponsor, Xero. The overall award went to a South Canterbury-based duo, Keri Johnston and Haidee McCabe of Irricon Resource Solutions, a business that focuses on improving or maintaining the sustainability of natural resources, and irrigation and catchment management. Their business philosophy centres on fitting work around family and farming life, giving their employees the opportunity to maintain successful careers, harmoniously balanced alongside home life.

There are many more rural women like them who deserve to be recognised for their success. The 2015 Westpac Women of Influence Awards recently announced the nominees for the Rural category, of which I am honoured to have been named a finalist. Alongside me are seven other women who are making a huge impact across the rural sector in New Zealand, including Keri (mentioned above) and Julia Jones, a dedicated farm accounting specialist from KPMG who we work closely with here at Figured.

These awards go a long way to boost recognition for women in the agriculture industry, but it’s equally important to call out the unsung heroines of our community, every day.

Helping our rural women succeed

Figured are proud sponsors of the Dairy Women’s Network, a community of women who are committed to adding value to the dairy community. There are several other great organisations across New Zealand and Australia who are dedicated to educating, supporting and providing advocacy for rural women, and who are a great source of advice and empowerment for women across all farming sectors, some of these include:

At Figured, we understand the critical role that many women play in running the financial management of farms, and we love that these organisations are providing women with the tools and information they need to drive their success.

Rural women – give yourself a pat on the back, today we tip our hats to you!


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