Why you should join the Country Women's Association

Country Women's Association ... feminist organisation of a different kind.

Country Women's Association ... feminist organisation of a different kind.

This past weekend I had the considerable honour of sitting on a panel alongside Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf and Eliza Griswold at the Sydney Opera House's The F-Word: A Day Of Feminist Debate.

At one stage of the spirited discussion, an audience member enquired as to what feminists could do, moving forward (to use a hideous corporate turn of phrase that said audience member didn't), in terms of working out which organisations, political or otherwise, to align oneself to.

Our facilitator Jenny Brockie turned to Prof. Greer to respond, and in that inimitable manner of hers she eventually suggested that we consider the Country Women's Association.

Clem Bastow prepares for the CWA jam competition.

Clem Bastow prepares for the CWA jam competition.

I haven't watched the video of the event yet because I can still remember what my shamefully enthusiastic response was: a single, exaggerated clap, like my Nanna.


You see, I've long been bending my fellow feminists' ears about the power of the CWA. Each year, I enter my jams and preserves at the Royal Melbourne Show (as I rather hysterically noted on Sunday, hoping La Greer would approve – she did - I am a two-time blue ribbon winner for Raspberry Jam), and for that ten days in September I spend a lot of time at the Showgrounds, which is really just an excuse to spend some time with the ladies of the CWA Victoria at lunch and dinner.

It wasn't always thus; for many years, I thought of the CWA solely as those nice bosomy nannas who made sandwiches and scones in the Show tea rooms (do you know they bus in at 4am every morning of the Show?). One year, though, when I was about 17, I decided to pick up their newsletter along with my Devonshire tea.

“Hang on,” I thought, as I flipped through stories about environmental activism and surviving domestic violence, “where are the chicken point-sandwich recipes?” (Up the back, as it turned out, and they were very good.)

Effectively, while not an expressly feminist organisation, the CWA is working towards the same goals as many feminists – and yet I'd hazard a guess that many self-styled “modern” feminists would look askance at the CWA as being old-fashioned or out of touch.

You see, as Australia's largest women's organisation, with over 25,000 members, the CWA does some pretty impressive work. Not that they'd crow about it; in their own humble words, they are simply “a self-funded, non party political and non-sectarian organisation” that “aim[s] to improve the conditions for women and children and make life better for families, especially those living in rural and remote Australia”.

And, as Prof. Greer noted on Sunday (and often does), concern about the desperate state of our environment goes hand in hand with feminist issues; here, the CWA's work is impressive, drawing attention to everything from salinity levels to the sinister spectre of coal seam gas mining.

We spend a lot of time these days discussing the semantics of feminism: should we give it a new name, has it failed, are people scared to call themselves feminists. On Sunday, we all agreed that the definition and title wasn't as important as getting out there and doing feminist work. Perhaps, with that in mind, it's time to reconsider the CWA's work. Not only do they want the same things we do, they serve a damn good pavlova while doing it.