Rural Women’s Organisations – Australia and other countries

Australia is fortunate to have a number of strong state and national rural women’s groups.  Each is unique, though perhaps these differences aren’t immediately apparent to anyone on the sidelines.

Rural women’s organisations (worldwide) include at least one of the following aspects.  Some include all three:

  1. A strong emphasis on directly lobbying governments to improve conditions for rural women, on topics such as rural health and education services, employment and finances, and equal opportunities. And often child welfare and men’s health as well.
  2. Work on building women’s personal confidence and skills so they launch into publicly recognised leadership roles and improve society via their individual efforts.
  3. A social support/cultural focus – passing on home management and related skills, preserving and celebrating cultural traditions, and fostering friendships and supportive networks via regular gatherings.

Originally rural women’s organisations were formed to provide companionship (especially in remote areas), help women do a better job of running households, and lobby governments regarding specific issues of concern (including in relation to child welfare).  In recent decades the number of women directly involved in running farms (either outdoors or indoors – ie running the office) has greatly increased.  And there has been a growing realisation that much of the work women do on farms is unrecognised by society, and women are very much under-represented in farm organisation leadership positions.  Subsequently, organisations specifically for women working in agribusinesses have also increased – often to raise the profile of women in agriculture, encourage girls to take up agribusiness careers, and to foster leadership ability.  Unlike older rural women’s organisations, many of the newer groups don’t have buildings or regular meetings; instead the conversations occur online, and sometimes via annual conferences or one-off in-person gatherings.

There is a place for traditional rural women’s organisations set up for powerful group lobbying and with bricks and mortar sites for frequent and regular in-person gatherings; and the more recent online organisations set up specifically for women involved in agriculture, with an emphasis on fostering individual leadership capabilities.  These two models can complement one another nicely.


  • Country Women’s Association of Australia (CWA) is almost 70 years old and the largest women’s organisation in Australia.  CWA state organisations in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, Qld and the NT are affiliated with CWA Australia.  More than 20,000 members are spread across 1,200 branches. An national conference is held annually.  There is also a Country Women’s Association in Western Australia.  CWA Australia  is an affiliated member of ACWW (details below).

More recent Australian rural women’s organisations:

  • National Rural Women’s Coalition is an umbrella organisation providing a united voice for rural, regional and remote women, via five member organisations : the Australian Local Government Women’s Association: the Country Women’s Association of Australia (see above); Australian Women in Agriculture (see below),  the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) and the Women’s Industry Network – Seafood. There is also an independent director on the board, as well as two women representing rural indigenous women.
  • Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) was set up for women who have a specific interest in or who are involved in primary production. This specific interest in agriculture or fisheries sets AWiA apart from other rural women’s organisations. AWiA does not have local branches or local gatherings. Instead members converse online or by meeting informally, and an annual national conference is held in different towns/states each year, over 2-3 days in winter.  AWiA is not a lobby group, but works to help individual members develop the skills and confidence to lobby governments directly.
  • Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network – (QRRRWN); formed in the 1990s.  An annual conference is held in a different regional Queensland town each year, on 2-3 days around Aug-October.  The aim of QRRRWN is to foster mutual support amongst rural, regional and remote women; building skills and confidence.
  • Rural Women’s Network (RWN) – New South Wales. The NSW Rural Women’s Network is very unusual because it is run by the State Government’s Department of Primary Industries, rather than entirely by volunteers, as is usual.  The aim is to share information of interest and use to rural women, and promote action on rural women’s issues.  The annual September or October conference is held in a different regional NSW town each year, and run by a local committee with the support of the RWN.


  • Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) is a UK-based organisation that has more than 9 million members in 62 countries.  ACWW has NGO status with the United Nations.
  • Womens Institute (WI) – UK.  Formed in 1915 to encourage women to be involved in food production, during WWI shortages.  Like Australia’s CWA, the UK’s Women’s Institute is the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the nation, with more than 200,000 members in more than 6,000 branches.  The WI is also an affiliated member of ACWW, and now includes many members residing in towns, as well as on farms.
  • Irish Countrywomen’s Association. Formed in 1910.  More than 10,000 members in more than 500 guilds across Ireland. ICA is also an affiliated member of ACWW.
  • Scottish Women’s Institutes. Formed in 1917.  More than 17,000 members (town and country) spread across 747 institutes overall.
  • Rural Women NZ. Set up on 1925, Rural Women NZ was set up to advocate on rural issues such as health and education, as well as supporting and encouraging members via workshops, training and leadership opportunities, and providing social get togethers.  An annual conference is held towards the end of each year.


  • American Agri-Women – USA. Set up in 1974, American Agri-Women is a behemoth, with more than 50 state, commodity and agribusiness affiliate organisations.  A national convention is held in a different location each November.  The affiliate organisations also hold a raft of events and there are several other national American Agri-Women events too. For example, this fantastic annual opportunity:

“Each year in June, American Agri-Women hosts a Legislative Fly-In for those interested to speak to their legislators, agencies, and other professionals in Washington D.C. about current agricultural issues and policies while relying upon your own opinions as well as AAW’s Position Statements. We also explore the city and its major historical sites.”

American Agri-Women affiliate organisations are listed on this page. Yes America has a massive population of 320 million people and settlement is very decentralised. However perusing the very long list of women in ag organisations suggests US rural women are more upfront about hands-on agricultural roles and more involved in ag organisation leadership, than their counterparts in other countries.

  • Ag Women’s Network – Canada. Set up in 2013 to provide a supportive network for Canadian women involved in agriculture.
  • Ladies in Beef – UK.  Launched in 2011, Ladies in Beef is an organisation for women who are beef farmers, set up to publicise and promote consumption of British beef.

Why have organisations specifically for rural women been created (for those who question the need):

  • Rural, because:  every country has the same problem – vital services such as health and education are always concentrated in regions where there is the greatest concentration of people, as it’s cheaper to provide these services in closely settled areas, and capital city residents have more voting power.
  • Women, because: women are usually the ones running households and responsible for the primary care of children, as well as unnoficially ending up with roles such as ‘health and safety officer’.  So women are the most likely to make it a priority to lobby governments to improve daily life for rural residents.  And it’s usually more difficult for women to obtain leadership positions in other lobbying organisations.

This list of rural women’s organisations is just a starter list that will be added to as I come across other organisations set up specifically for rural women and women involved in agriculture.

If you have any additions to suggest, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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