While keeping a low profile despite her role, the World President of the Associated Country Women of the World Ruth Shanks, AM, attended the recent Country Women’s Association Facts Day at Narrandera.
The ACWW is the overarching body that encompasses many other rural women’s organisations, including the CWA.
A registered charity in the UK, Ms Shanks answers to the head office in the UK.
“So my office is 16,500 kilometres away and it takes me 32 hours to get there,” Ms Shanks said.
“We have organisations around the world that are similar to the CWA. Essentially, I represent between nine and ten million rural women around the world – quite a hefty number.”
The work of the ACWW is complicated and covers a huge amount of ground.
“The member societies make their own judgements and make their own call. They’re autonomous in their own right, but we have a conference every three years, and then we have resolutions there. The resolutions are issues that are generally international issues. We talk about pollution and those sorts of things, and access to water, voting rights, and land rights,” Ms Shanks said.
“We have the givers and the receivers. The ladies here raise money, they give it to us; the ladies from the developing world come to us with a project and say, ‘we would like to do this, this is our project plan, this is what we need, here’s a budget.’
“The ladies in the developing world, there are three issues that they all talk about, and the developed world talk about them too. The issues are access to education, fresh water, and healthcare. Wherever you talk to women in the world – even here – these are the same issues they have.”
It’s not as simple as just handing out donations. When women come to the ACWW asking for funding, they have to have already raised money for 20 per cent of the value of the project. The ACWW also monitors projects, in order to make sure that the money is being properly spent.
“If they raise the money, they have ownership of the project, because if you just keep giving money they’ll just keep taking it. But if they’ve got ownership, if they have to put something into that project, it becomes theirs.
“They’re not big dollars. The grants would be, at most, between 10 and 15 thousand pounds. In the developed world, that’s something like $30,000, but it can make a lot of difference. It might be putting a water pump in their village so that they don’t have to walk three miles to get their water. It might be for them to learn how to market their vegetables – they can grow the vegetables, not a problem, but they need to learn how to be savvy about marketing.”
It’s not only their work as a charity that makes the ACWW invaluable. The ACWW is a powerful lobbying group as well.
“We have a voice; we have consultancy status with the United Nations. We’ve been connected with the United Nations since 1947. We have UN committees, and we can input information. We look at their policies to make sure that the word ‘rural’ is looked at. That’s what organisations such as the CWA do with their governments.
“All of the organisations around the world do all of those things in their own right, in their own country, and then as an overarching body we have that networking knowledge.”
The ACWW has a presence on every continent in the world, barring Antarctica, although Ms Shanks admitted that she’d like to see the group expand more in South America.
“The problem there is that the rural women don’t speak English. Because we’re only funded by our organisations, we don’t have the capacity to actually translate documents and get those sorts of people involved with us at the moment.”
With a duty to millions of women to attend to, it was a well-deserved break for Ms Shanks to be at the CWA meeting in Narrandera.
“I’m here incognito this weekend,” Ms Shanks said.