Truck Animation


Rural Women New Zealand

Supporting Our Rural Women

Key agents for Agricultural Development

Women play a significant role in the rural sector and are the backbone of agricultural development. Women are good stewards and caretakers of the land, their households, and their community. Whether it’s running or working on the farm, managing their family business accounts, or making sure that their children are all ready and packed for school, women wear many hats.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) has been an integral part of strengthening and supporting women to see them reach their full potential in all aspects of life. Founded in 1925, RWNZ has been an authoritative voice in the rural sector for nearly a century. RWNZ has a range of different projects and programmes, some that are ongoing and others that are an immediate response to a detected need. Being a respected and trusted voice, RWNZ uses policy and submission work to advocate for the rural community to ensure that individuals’ needs are being met. Lisa Thompson, Projects and Events Manager for RWNZ, mentioned that some of these areas included access to health and wellbeing services, environmental and climate change issues as well as ensuring that a rural perspective is included in policy development and rural education needs.

“There is an enormous amount of charitable work undertaken by our members. Many are responders in the face of adverse events. Most recently, our Canterbury members have provided resources, meals, transport, safe havens and ongoing support to flood-affected farmers.”

“Other examples include care packages and food deliveries for overwhelmed healthcare workers in Waikato; knitting projects, including specialist singlets and hats for premature and newborn babies, and breast pillows for women recovering from mastectomies; donations of food, books and financial support; and public meetings on local issues and events that support rural communities,” Lisa continued.

RWNZ champions women in business, working with the Ministry of Primary Industries to help support and assist women who want to start their business journey. They also hold the NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards that recognises, celebrates and empowers women who are excelling in their work. These awards are based on seven different categories; Emerging Business, Love of the Land, Creative Arts, Rural Health and Wellbeing, Rural Champion, Innovation, Bountiful Table and Supreme. The winner of each category goes into the finals to win the Supreme Award, which is judged by the NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards’ panel. This year, the Category Award Winners will be announced in early October while the Supreme Award Winner will be announced at a presentation evening in Christchurch this November.

In November 2020, RWNZ passed two remits to create national projects in regards to gynaecological health and wellbeing. “Our National Project at present is our ‘O is for... campaign.’ Through this, we are raising awareness of the five gynecological cancers women face – most of which are under-diagnosed creating poor outcomes. We are also fundraising to support the work of three organisations seeking to provide more options, better diagnostic tools and support,” Lisa said.

The core foundation of the organisation is about connecting and supporting women in the rural community which has been their primary goal from the start. “RWNZ started off its life as the Women’s Division of the Farmer’s Union, then later the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers. As the decades pass ed and the range of work that can be undertaken rurally has expanded, a more inclusive name and mandate was recognised by renaming the organisation Rural Women New Zealand in 1999.”

“We often refer to women as the backbones of their rural communities and integral in the running of a farming enterprise. In supporting rural women, we are in turn working to create diverse, vital, responsive and sustainable rural communities.”

Women undoubtedly play an invaluable role in the rural community and have been at the forefront of major successes in the agricultural sector. “At times, they have been the ‘essential workers’ of their time such as the Land Girls during WWII. There is also an incredibly huge amount of unrecognised, underpaid and unpaid work that women have contributed in this s ector. More recently, women are recognised for their work in the agricultural s ectors by way of ownership and as partners in food and fibre businesses,” Lisa said.

The important role that women play will continue to live on as RWNZ gains more interest and attracts new members from the younger generation in our rural communities. with RWNZ's new podcast series called "Black Heels and Tractor Wheels" is reaching a wider and younger audience and is sparking an interest in becoming part of an inclusive, creative and innovative organisation of rural women.

Hearing from our Rural Women

In this section, we spoke to three RWNZ members: Barbara Stuart, Samantha Oliver and Jo Morgan. They all share their experiences with the long-standing organisation and discuss their farming background, the challenges that women face within the agricultural sector, as well as advice that they would give to women (and their younger selves) in the rural community.

Barbara Stuart - Appointed Member for Federated Farmers & Top of the South Rural Support Trust

Tell us about your background?

I’m a farmer’s daughter. I was brought up around Lyttelton Harbour as my father had a small farm there. I married my husband, who is also a farmer, at Cable Bay in Nelson. We have been at the farm in Cable Bay for over 46 years, raising our children here. One of our boys still runs the farm. After having children, I went back to work as a Regional Coordinator for the top of the South Island at New Zealand Landcare Trust. I started working there just before the 2000s until retiring in 2017, then did two years for Rural Support Trust. The work I did for the New Zealand Trust was to engage private landowners, particularly farmers, in sustainable land management. I focused on catchments and worked with the local council and scientists. We won the inaugural Rivers Award for the Aoere catchment in Golden Bay and got environmental awards for the Sherry River catchment where I was involved in Landcare research to get cows out of creeks.

What is your current occupation?

I’m retired but have been a member of Rural Women for about 20 years. Rural Women were one of the parties, along with Federated Farmers, who set up the New Zealand Landcare Trust, along with Forest and Bird, Fish and Game and the Ecologic Foundation

How did you find out about Rural Women NZ and what made you want to become a member?

There was a branch of Rural Women locally here when I was younger. Rural Women have always had a voice in parliament and I guess that appealed to the political side of me. They're the first port of call for commenting on rural issues around schooling, health and more. So, it's a way to have a voice in an organised manner and to put back into your communities.

What active role do you play in Rural Women NZ?

Now I'm retired, I've got time to put back into the organisation and I am their appointed representative on the local Federated Farmers board. I’m involved with other independent women and members. We see that the future of rural women will largely be through, in many cases, other independents like us. We’re concerned about engaging with the next generation and making it attractive for them to become members. One of the things that got engineered at the grassroots is putting together podcasts now to make it more relevant. I'm really keen to help encourage younger women to join and pass the baton onto them.

What are the challenges that women face within the rural community?

I think isolation is a big one and I'm thinking of a little area called Maruia, which is on the southern boundary of Tasman, where they’re finding it hard to get staff for their schools. Sometimes the problems are an opportunity and maybe some younger women might need support to further their education and become a teacher for those rural schools.

You don't have to be living rurally to belong to Rural Women. You can be an isolated young woman in a suburb somewhere. Or maybe you live on a lifestyle block and don't even know your neighbours. Either way, it could be good to start a Rural Women's group with the people around you.

What advice would you give your younger self from what you’ve experienced today?

The reason RWNZ started many years ago was to help women socialise, to get to know one another and to support each other. Those reasons are still there. Just because we're so well connected today doesn't mean to say people don't feel isolated and don't need friends of their own age and stage in life. So, joining Rural Women, or even starting your own group of rural women, for those that live in remote areas, is still an option. They would be encouraged by the organisation to set up a group in whatever way suits them. I find now that we do quite a few Zoom meetings, if you can't meet in person, you could sit down with a coffee on a Zoom call with a bunch of women, with the children playing around, to keep connected in some way.

Is there any advice that you would give to women within the rural community?

Farming is changing and women are the best people in adapting to change. You know the men on the land, they can't get by without us in behind them. They do the hard work, but very often it's the women who help them. In lots of ways that is not recognised. We’re just there supporting our men. The heart of society needs young, capable women. I just think that in this changing world, particularly to adapt to the things that are happening around climate and the environment, we need everyone to pull together and to get involved and make the change. We need to make relevant change because we've got some very good people in government who have their hearts in the right place but they are sending these rules that don't work at the coalface. We need these young women, and men, who can contribute to getting the rules in the right place. Having the right rules to make the right changes.

Jo Morgan - Tumahu Rural Women's group

Tell us about your background?

I grew up under Mount Taranaki on a dairy farm. I am very much an outdoors girl and love being on the farm. Upon leaving school, I worked as a land girl for two seasons, then worked at Livestock Improvement for the next three years in different departments.

What is your current occupation?

I have been dairy farming since then with my husband and team members.

How did you find out about Rural Women NZ and what made you want to become a member?

I found out about Rural Women through my mum being a member, and I have been a member for 23 years.

What active role do you play in Rural Women NZ?

I belong to the Tumahu Rural Women group and am currently the president. Being a Rural Women member has been great. I very much enjoy all aspects and am learning constantly through being involved in the Taranaki area committee also.

What are the challenges that women face within the rural community?

I think isolation can be a challenge at times in the rural community. Through groups like Rural Women though, friendships are formed, advice is shared and support can be provided.

What advice would you give your younger self from what you’ve experienced today?

Set yourself goals, have a good work ethic and enjoy what you do!

Is there any advice that you would give to women within the rural community?

I would encourage women to be involved in the community, it’s good to be a part of what’s around you. You get out of life what you put in.

Samantha Oliver - Amuri Rural Women's group

Tell us about your background?

I grew up on a lifestyle block north of Auckland and enjoyed rearing calves for school ag day and helping dad with our few sheep and “beefies”. We moved to Australia when I was 10, although even though we were living in the city, I still enjoyed spending time with animals and riding horses.

In 2012, I came back to NZ to have a go at farming life for six months and help out my aunt and uncle, Sharron and Alan Davie-Martin, over calving season.

After going back home to Aussie, 10 months later I decided to move back permanently and take up a dairy assistant job at Medbury Farm in Hawarden. I spent two seasons at Medbury, then decided to follow my interest in animal health and study for my Certificate in Veterinary Nursing, followed by a Certificate in Rural Animal Technology, to become a Vet Nurse and Technician at Vetlife Culverden. Last year I went back to dairy farming full-time as a position came up on my aunt and uncle’s farm, Beechbank Dairies in Culverden.

What is your current occupation?

At the moment, my role is dry stock manager at Beechbank Dairies. I work between both the dairy farm in Culverden and the support block in Loburn where we run our young stock and winter the cows. At the dairy farm, I am mostly helping out the team with covering days off, milking, and from the beginning of August, I am there full-time rearing calves. The support block was purchased last year, so there has been a lot of work put into repairing fences, rejuvenating paddocks and growing crops. I look after the young stock day-to-day and make sure they are up-to-date with any animal health requirements.

How did you find out about Rural Women NZ and what made you want to become a member?

I was first introduced to Rural Women by my aunt Sharron, who is the president of our local Amuri Rural Women’s group. She brought me along in the first six months of living here to meet the other ladies and as a social outing, which grew to being involved with more of the events that we hold in our community. I think that I mostly wanted to join Rural Women for the social connections that I could make and to be a part of the community. My aunt Sharron has definitely encouraged and supported me to become a member and to make the most out of any opportunities that come up.

What active role do you play in Rural Women NZ?

For me, I haven't yet been involved in anything specific, more so just helping out where I can and joining events that come up. Following the Waiau/Kaikoura earthquake, I became involved with delivering baking and boxes of essential items to rural people who had been affected. It was a really good feeling to be able to check in on people and have a chat as we were all in the same boat and making the best out of a tricky situation. It was nice to be able to be a friendly face and point of contact for people. In the future, I hope to be involved with a Rural Women leadership programme in Wellington when it becomes available.

What are the challenges that women face within the rural community?

One of the challenges I think that we face as women in rural communities is isolation. Some women may live on the farm where they work or could be raising young kids and may not find an opportunity to get off-farm. This is one of the reasons I think Rural Women and other groups like Dairy Women's Network or Young Farmers are so important for all ages.

When I first came to New Zealand for the six month period, it was really hard to find people my own age who I could become friends with. Joining Rural Women's gave me an opportunity to meet other women who had similar interests, which then led to meeting other people through them and eventually finding some really good mates.

With Covid, I think the isolation has been brought to the forefront for everyone, rurally or in town. One of the treats of going to town for rural women would be stopping off for coffee or catching up at a friend's place. With lockdowns, we still have work to do and animals to feed as per normal but those connections face-to-face are really missed.

In terms of other challenges, I have friends that have struggled with finding work when they aren't exactly keen on farming themselves but they live rurally with their farming partner. Sometimes there are only so many vet or farm store reception jobs available! I don't have kids, but I have heard of others that might not have the support of nearby family to call on, struggle to find childcare or find that options for schooling are limited compared to town.

What advice would you give your younger self from what you’ve experienced today?

Some advice to my younger self would be to put myself out there even more and engage with others to learn from them and share their experience. I think I would say don’t be scared of the unknown. Moving jobs or countries, or making mistakes just adds to life experience and makes you better equipped to deal with whatever comes at you.

Is there any advice that you would give to women within the rural community?

I think one of the hardest things that I have had to do is put myself out there and make new connections with people, particularly when I first moved here. Coming from being a Gold Coast 'townie' to living rurally was a bit of a social adjustment and I think if it wasn't for my aunt bringing me along to the Rural Women's dinner group then I might have missed out on some really cool opportunities.

Attending a bingo fundraiser dressed as my nana, or mustering cows and calves down from the hills on horses with one of the ladies in our local group, were both new experiences that I wouldn't have had the guts to do on my own (dressing as my nana), or had the opportunity to do. Taking advantage of these opportunities I think has made me more confident in myself and also in my work now.

My advice would be to try new things, experience a bit of everything and put yourself out there to connect with others and become involved with your community. There are many challenges with being a woman in the rural community but I think we’re still at an advantage with our problem-solving skills, compassionate nature and with the support of groups like Rural Women.

Personally, when I have a hard day on the farm or am feeling a bit unmotivated, I like to take a minute to take in my surroundings and remind myself just how lucky I am to be working in such a beautiful landscape with these big, gorgeous, gentle animals. Taking it in helps me to appreciate the small things and overcome the challenges.