Hurriyet’s research in the experiences of women in rural Australia as well as overseas has found triumphs as well as hardships.
“Rural women are innovators, they adapt to change,” Hurriyet says. “They are at the forefront of ideas such as caring for the environment, climate change and food security.
“They bring diverse perspectives and look at the different levels that they can work on to bring about change. These women are strong and resilient as they bear adversities and they rise to the challenge of leadership.”
Australian rural women play many roles. They are carers, educators, connectors, communicators, volunteers, entrepreneurs. They operate in many sectors, from agriculture to health to tourism and beyond.
“Rural women are the glue that holds the community together.”
Professor Hurriyet Babacan
However, rural women also face unique challenges.
Hurriyet says there is a major global gender gap for rural women in four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and wellbeing, and political participation.
“Rural women have lower workforce participation than men,” Hurriyet says. “Young women are often discouraged from pursuing education and encouraged to take up unpaid work on farms and family businesses. Yet farm and asset ownership are often in the name of the husband and inherited by the son.
“Rural women face significant challenges of isolation, lack of recognition and support, and attitudinal barriers. They take on disproportionate shares of unpaid work and their contribution is limited by unequal access to services and resources. They also face gender discrimination in male-dominated industries, such as mining and agriculture.”
These challenges, as well as reduced access to health services, can contribute to heightened risks of mental health issues for these women. Hurriyet also says that domestic and family violence rates are high in these communities, particularly in times of distress. “Lack of transport options and access to help mean that these women are often left without escape,” she says.
Another issue that rural women face is a lack of representation.
“My research identified that rural women face challenges in representation and voice at the local level,” Hurriyet says. “At the local government elections in March this year, the results for Far North Queensland, from thirteen councils, is one female mayor and one female CEO, indicating that women are not effectively represented in formal decision-making processes.
“However, this does not mean that women are silent or have no agency. Rural woman are building strong networks and organising in their own ways.”
To support the triumphs of these women, it is necessary to also address their struggles and support efforts to close the gender gap for rural women.