Significance of the Invisible Farmer Project

Women are vital to an innovative and productive Australian agriculture in all its’ contexts.
— Australian Women in Agriculture submission to Federal Government White Paper, 2014

Woman Riding Horse, Agriculture, Victoria, 1931: The Biggest Family Album in Australia, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Unknown.


Did you know?

  • Women produce at least 49% of real farm income in Australia, however if you do a Google search today for "Australian farmer" you will find that 80-90% of the images will feature men, not women.
  • Australian Indigenous women have over 50,000 years of knowledge and experience in managing and caring for the land.
  • The post-colonial history of Australian agriculture has tended to celebrate the role men have played, however women too - including Indigenous women - have been active contributors to Australian agricultural enterprises since early settlement.
  • Women's roles in agriculture, food and fibre are widely varied, and women often wear many different hats. They work indoors, outdoors, off-farm, on-farm and in a number of different capacities.

Despite making up half the agricultural workforce in Australia, women are significantly underpresented and undervalued in positions of rural leadership and decision making.

Department of Transport and Regional Services, A Snapshot of Women’s Representation on Selected Regional Bodies, 2005.

Department of Transport and Regional Services, A Snapshot of Women’s Representation on Selected Regional Bodies, 2005.


A Woman Feeding Poultry, Agriculture, Dimboola District, Victoria, 1926: The Biggest Family Album in Australia, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Unknown.


Women's contributions in Australian primary production have tended to be undervalued and 'invisible' because...

  • Australia celebrates a masculine national identity that highlights and values the myths and stories of bushmen, bushrangers and mateship, but gives little attention or value to women's significant roles in agriculture, food and fibre.
  • Farm women's work has been excluded from official statistics and historical records, making it very difficult to trace their histories and stories.
  • Women were excluded from some agricultural colleges up until the 1970s.
  • Women had no voting rights in farm organisations until the 1990s.
  • The value of women's domestic work and off-farm income isn't counted in evaluating the overall farm input, output and productivity of Australian primary production.
  • Women's voices have not been adequately represented or heard in local and national decision-making bodies, boards, organisations and government.

 


The Australian Rural Women's Movement brought about positive changes...

  • The 1980s-1990s saw the emergence of the Australian Rural Women's Movement. This movement led the world and involved the development of women's networks, organisations and groups that worked towards enabling farm women to network, campaign and gain more recognition.
  • Some notable things to emerge from the Australian Rural Women's Movement include:

    *The development of state-wide "gatherings" (beginning with the first gathering in Warragul, Victoria, 1990)
    * The International Conference for Women in Agriculture (1994)
    *The creation of the ABC Rural Woman of the Year Awards (1994).
    *In 1994 the Australian Law Reform Commision reviewed farm women's legal status and finally defined them as "farmers" (instead of "domestics", "helpmates", or "farmer's wives").

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge.


Why does this matter?

Women play a vital role on farms and enterprises across Australia.

  • Women are key agents of change and innovation and offer significant leadership in sustainability, food security, rural communities, natural disasters and policymaking. Making farm women's contributions visible is not just an exercise in recording and rewriting history, but also a critical step in securing Australia's future.
  • Failure to recognise the role that women play in Australian agriculture, food and fibre significantly limits the potential of half of Australia's workforce to effectively contribute to community life, policy, sustainability and our collective future both in Australia and worldwide.
  • According to the United Nations, by 2030 the world demand for food will increase by 35%, water by 40% and energy by 50%. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals position gender equality as both a goal and a solution in tackling these major global issues.

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There are significant outcomes to be achieved in making the stories of Australia's farm women more visible. We cannot do this alone though and need the support of organisations and individuals like yourself.


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