Rural women push traditional envelope

27 Feb, 2002 10:00 PM
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SOME people might find what Lynley McGrath has to say a little confronting.

Despite many traditional family roles still existing in farming communities, Lynley thinks it is time to change all that.

She wants women to tear off their apron string-styled personas and take up a more powerful role in the male-dominated world of agriculture.

In fact, she believes women hold the key to the future of the industry.

There is no doubt Lynley has her work cut out for her if she wants to convince others of her vision.

But she has worked hard to make it happen.

Before moving to her current job at the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Lynley worked as a xxxx officer for xxx years.

And it was her tireless work during those years that perhaps did more for women in agriculture than those before her.

She was solely responsible for implementing policy recommendations aimed at improving women's career opportunities in agriculture and building information resource networks.

"It is a strong commitment to women that I have," Lynley says when asked what has driven her ambitions.

But she is quick to point out that her commitment to women does not work in opposition to men.

Both sexes play a vital role, now, more than ever, as pressures mount to keep up with change within the increasingly complex agricultural industry, according to Lynley.

She says if diminishing rural communities are to survive, they need to use all available resources.

To ignore women's contribution is to half their chances, she says.

Describing it as a "popular mythology", Lynley says those resistant to change often fear families will be stripped of the support they need if women take on new, more active roles.

But she has discovered from experience that women think in broad terms.

They bring with them a holistic approach to farm business, aimed at improving economic, family and community life simultaneously.

And with an estimated 98pc of farming enterprises still run as a family operation, it was no longer viable to ignore the value of women's contributions.

"When we are talking about farming, we are talking about families," she said.

And just in case there are any doubts that Lynley might just be one of those feminist types hell bent on putting silly ideas into the heads of perfectly happy house wives, she points out women are already filling many roles.

"They are already managers of farm finance, therefore they know the structure of the business at any given moment," Lynley says.

"Just to say they 'do the books' is an understatement."

Lynley also points out with tertiary education levels of women in their 20s and 30s almost nine times higher than men in the same age group, there is another element to the equation ‹ young women with an education with the desire to farm.

A firm believer in harnessing these resources, she made major inroads in the development of accredited business and community development courses for women, as well as informal information networks during her time at the Agriculture Department.

Lynley attributes her passion for information exchange to her years of collective experience as a ministerial policy officer for women's interests, a nurse, women's health counsellor, and senior officer at the Department of Commerce, among other things.

Add to that her role as manager of Rural, Remote and Regional Women's Network ‹ which distributes five newsletters a year and posts information on the web ‹ and her work in major political lobby group Australian Women and it becomes fairly obvious that Lynley has made a big investment in rural women.

Ironically, the mark of success for Lynley will be when the role originally developed for her at the Agriculture Department is made redundant.

Lynley says she wants women to form strong networks and develop them in ways she cannot imagine.

And Lynley is certain that is exactly what they will do.

"Whatever you give women to achieve, they will achieve it," she says.

"Mostly they want a bit of power, so their ideas get taken into account."

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