Today is the International Day of Rural Women, a day established by the United Nations to recognise the essential role of rural women in food and fibre systems across the globe.
Rural women are not just farmers and growers – they are the small businesswomen, the main household support that keeps things ticking over, and the people that play an active role in building communities, Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) says.
The charitable organisation says women are the doers, the connectors and the supporters that make things happen.
RWNZ supports and celebrates women living in rural and regional New Zealand, provides learning opportunities, and is an important voice for rural communities, advocating across a wide range of rural, health, technology, business, and social issues.
Gill Naylor, President and International Portfolio Convenor for RWNZ, has been farming all her life.
She grew up on a Southland farm and ran a farm with her husband in Central Otago.
While she doesn't farm these days, she is still heavily involved in rural communities through RWNZ.
Naylor joined the organisation for "the connection, the community service, and the learning opportunities that Rural Women New Zealand provided."
A massive role that rural women play was connecting communities – putting their hand up to volunteer and get stuff done, Naylor said.
She knew this well, having played an active role in her community over the years.
"Part of being in a rural community is doing all that community service, and that builds your social network too.
"It's the real heartland kind of stuff – organising activities in the local hall, playgroup, schools, the local A and P show, sports clubs – those sorts of things."
In addition, rural women offered silent support, helping their families, businesses, and communities adapt to change and keep going through periods of uncertainty and stress, Naylor said.
"Often, women are holding things together quietly, so it's important to recognise that, as it usually goes unnoticed."
Rural women face a multitude of challenges in their day-to-day lives that many of their urban counterparts don't have to, including restricted access to care, especially maternity services, Naylor said.
"Mums and babies are our future, so it's absolutely critical that we have a well-supported midwifery service in rural areas. That means looking after our midwives properly – making sure there's enough of them and ensuring it's a profession that is worthwhile for them."
This year's series on Fieldays TV addressed this issue in the episode, "Maternity care in our rural communities," featuring a panel that explored the difficulties rural mothers and their midwives face.
In the panel discussion, Sheryl Wright, a rural community midwife who works in a remote rural setting in the Coromandel, talked about the challenges that she and rural mothers faced.
Working alone, relying on backup from midwives who lived a long distance away and organising time off were all difficulties she faced.
Distance was also a challenge for the mothers she worked with.
"If a woman needs a scan, it's at least an hour, if not an hour and a half's drive to access that.
"That comes with an associated cost for that woman who may need time off work, which becomes challenging for them and for me because sometimes they won't access those services even though they need them."
Meanwhile, Naylor said another massive issue rural women still faced, was conscious and unconscious bias against them and their ability to perform jobs on-farm.
"In terms of overcoming conscious bias, it's a matter of seeing that women and girls can do jobs on-farm – it's not necessarily a man's role, women are perfectly capable.
"If there is a way to do a task in an easier and more efficient way, rather than putting a lot of strain on anyone's body - male or female - maybe farmers and growers need to reconsider the way things are done."
To address unconscious bias against rural women, the language and imagery around farming in the primary sector needed to be gender-balanced, she said.
Through its work, RWNZ also encourages and empowers the next generation of women to join the primary sector.
The organisation promotes primary sector careers through its networks and provides financial assistance through education grants and bursaries.
It also champions rural women on its podcast, "Black Heels and Tractor Wheels," which shares the stories of New Zealand mana wahine.
While it was important to have a day dedicated to rural women to recognise their contribution to society, RWNZ continued working hard, to ensure Kiwi women were supported and their issues remained on the agenda, Naylor said.
"We'll just keep on keeping on – strengthening, supporting, and connecting our people and rural communities, that's what we do."
The theme of the International Day of Rural Women this year is "Cultivating Good Food for All".
Head to fieldaysonline.co.nz to view the Fieldays TV panel discussion, "Maternity care in our rural communities" on demand.