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Rural Women’s Engagement in Natural Resource Management: Eastern Darling Downs Case Study

Fiona McCartney1, Claire Carter2, Margaret Cruikshank3, Paula Halford4, Christine King1, Deirdre Lawrence2, Donna Moodie5, Maria O’Leary2, Helen Ross1, Roslyn Scotney6 and Jim Wilkinson7

1 The School of Natural and Rural Systems Management, University Of Queensland
2
The Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Brisbane
3
The Department of Communities, Toowoomba
4
Land Manager, Mt Tyson
5
Toowoomba City Council
6
Pittsworth Shire Council
7
Community Change Agent, Crows Nest

Abstract

2005 marks the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and 40 years since Indigenous women received the vote in Queensland. In recognition of this The Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) commissioned the publication of a set of profiles celebrating rural and regional women’s contribution to, and their motivations for participation in, natural resource management (NRM).

Participants were selected to reflect the diversity of rural and regional women and the variety of ways in which they engage in natural resource management. They included landholders, primary producers, business women, educators, historians, academics, artists, Traditional Owners, students, community leaders and scientists, and participated in activities such as on-ground work, research, communication and education, community representation and decision making, advocacy and awareness raising, administration and grant writing.

The most common motivations for participation in NRM were: childhood experiences; an interest or passion in the environment; a sense of stewardship; an appreciation for the intrinsic value of natural resources; a catalytic event as adults; the intellectual and problem solving nature of NRM; the opportunity for social interaction and networking; a consideration for future generations and a belief that they had “something to offer”.

Benefits to participation included working outdoors, personal restoration, skill development, collaborating with innovative and inspiring people, the satisfaction of being involved, and seeing the tangible benefits of their work.

In addition to contributing to an understanding of rural women’s motivations for participation, it is anticipated that this study will also assist in developing strategies, and the profiles will act as promotional material, for encouraging and strengthening women’s engagement in NRM.

Media Summary

A set of profiles illustrating the diversity of rural women engaged in natural resource management, the types of activities they engaged in, and their motivations for participation.

Key Words

natural resource management, rural women, community engagement

Introduction

Background

This study arose out of the anniversary of the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in Queensland and recommendations from a previous report relating to farming women’s roles in community engagement and views of sustainable development.

2005 marks the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and 40 years since Indigenous women received the vote in Queensland. In recognition of this accomplishment the DNRM wanted to acknowledge and promote women’s engagement and achievements in natural resource management.

In a holistic study of Pittsworth farming women’s roles in their properties, enterprises and communities, McCartney and Ross (2003) found that women are very interested in NRM, however whilst there was a great deal of voluntary activity and organizational capacity in that shire, comparatively little of it was directed to NRM activities.

Women have an essential contribution to make in the management of our natural resources. In addition to re-addressing the traditionally gendered approach to resource management, they possess several complementary attributes that are beneficial to ecologically sustainable development. For example, a holistic cooperative approach to management, a longer-term perspective, the ability to make international links, non-adversarial non-violent methods of dispute management and resolution, a nurturing ethic and a capacity to observe ecological issues from many angles and perspectives (OSW, 1992). Consequently women need to be engaged at all levels and in all types of activities, for the management of our natural resources.

The aims of this study were to:

  • identify the major influences or motivations on women engaging in natural resource management,
  • produce a set of profiles of Darling Downs women engaging in natural resource management, and
  • assist government agencies and community-based change agents to identify ways of encouraging and strengthening women’s involvement in natural resource management.

Location

The location for the study was the Toowoomba City, Gatton shire and Eastern Darling Downs region (Figure1), as defined by the Eastern Downs Region of Councils (EDROC). This area was chosen as it was sufficiently big enough to represent a diversity of women working in NRM at the national, regional and local scale, but small enough to adhere to a limited travel budget.

Figure 1. The Eastern Darling Downs Region The State of Queensland, Queensland Transport 2003

Process

Project Organisation

The study was funded by the Strategic Policy and Regional Arrangements Unit of DNRM and the research was conducted by the School of Natural and Rural Systems Management (NRSM) at UQ, Gatton. A steering committee comprising eleven members representing DNRM, UQ, local government, regional NRM bodies, the Indigenous community, local change agents and the project participants was initially established.

In addition to setting the scope for the study the steering committee met several times and was actively involved in decision making at all stages during the project, including determining the methodology and participant selection process, analysing the findings and planning the profile launch event.

Participant Selection

Participants were chosen to reflect the diversity of rural and regional women and demonstrate the variety of ways in which they engage in NRM (Figure 2). They included landholders, primary producers, business women, educators, historians, academics, artists, Traditional Owners, students, community leaders and scientists, and participated in activities such as on-ground work, research, communication and education, community representation and decision making, advocacy and awareness raising, administration and grant writing.

The women were primarily involved in NRM in an unpaid capacity, however emphasis was placed on selecting participants who represented a variety of demographic factors (eg. ethnicity, stage in the lifecycle) and whose participation encompassed a variety of natural resources (eg. land, soil, biology, wildlife, vegetation and water).

Figure 2. The ways in which the women engaged in natural resource management.

The participants were approached either directly by the research officer or through their relevant representatives, for example, the local Landcare coordinator or the regional Nature Refuge officer.

Interviews

19 individual and 4 group interviews comprising a total of 38 women were conducted throughout July and August. Using a semi-structured conversational format, each interview lasted between 60-90 mins and covered topics relating to the types of natural resource management activities the participants were engaged in, their reasons for involvement, the benefits or incentives to being involved, and any advice that they could suggest to strengthen womens’ participation in NRM.

The interviews were conducted in homes, workplaces, coffee shops or community spaces, as determined by the women. Prior to interviewing, the study, including the profile questions was subject to a rigorous ethics clearance in accordance with university procedure. Before arranging an interview each participant was given a consent form outlining their rights and was free to withdraw from the study at any stage up to publication.

Profile Launch

A profile launch to celebrate the publication of the profiles and provide an opportunity for the women and their guests to socialize and network with the project collaborators and other guests has been organised for mid-October. The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines and the Minister for Environment, Local Government, Planning and Women have also been invited to this event.

Findings

The multi-faceted ways in which rural women participate in natural resource management.

Every participant interviewed was engaged in NRM in more than one capacity. Figure 3 displays the multi-faceted ways in which the women participated over the four most common capacities: as landholders; as primary producers; as community leaders and as members of grass-roots organisations.

For example, of the 13 landholders individually interviewed, 8 were primary producers and 3 of these also held leadership roles in NRM. One participant was engaged in NRM as a landholder, a primary producer, a community leader and a participant of a local grass-roots organisation.

Figure 3. The multi-faceted ways in which the participants were engaged in NRM (individual interviews only).

Major influences or motivations for engagement in NRM

Participants were asked to identify major influences or motivations for their involvement in NRM, however no attempt was made to organise these in order of importance. Figure 4 displays the ten most frequently cited motivations over all the interviews.

Other reasons included: an interest in rural and agricultural issues; an opportunity to access information and broaden existing knowledge relating to resource management and a strong desire to make a difference and contribute to “something bigger than (themselves)”.

Working outdoors, personal restoration, skill development, collaborating with innovative and inspiring people and satisfaction of being involved, and seeing the tangible benefits of their work were identified as the primary benefits to being involved in NRM.

Figure 4. The ten most common motivations for engagement in NRM, as cited by the participants.

These findings correlate with the literature relating to motivations for participation in environmental volunteering (Ryan et.al., 1001; Sobels et.al., 2001; Gooch, 2003; Gooch, 2004), and community voluntary work in general (Clary et.al., 1996; ABS 2000; ABS, 2002). The results suggest the need to invest in engaging with schools and students about NRM issues and activities and being innovative about the ways this engagement occurs, in order to create passion, interest and a sense of stewardship.

Conclusion

In addition to contributing to a greater understanding of rural women’s motivations for participation in NRM, it is anticipated that the findings from this study will also assist government agencies and community change agents in developing strategies to further enhance women’s involvement, whilst the profiles will also act as promotional material for encouraging more women’s engagement in NRM.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2002. Occasional Paper: Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, Cat no 5240.0, ABS, Canberra

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2000, Voluntary Work, Australia 2000, Cat no 4441.0, ABS, Canberra

Clary, E.G., Snyder, M. & Stukas, A.A. (1996). Volunteers' Motivations: Findings from a National Survey, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 25, 485-505

Gooch M.J. (2004). Voices of the volunteers: an exploration of the influences that volunteer experiences have on the resilience and sustainability of catchment groups in coastal Queensland, PhD thesis, Griffith University

Gooch, M. (2003). A sense of place: ecological identity as a driver for catchment volunteering, Australian Journal on Volunteering 8(2):22-33

McCartney, F. and Ross, H. (2003). Looking Beyond the Boundary Fence: Rural Women, Natural Resource Management and Sustainable Development, School of Natural and Rural Systems Management, The University of Queensland, Gatton

Office of the Status of Women (1992). Women and the Environment: A statement prepared by the Office of the Status of Women, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, on behalf of the Commonwealth government of Australia, for the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, Rio De Janeiro June 1992, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

Ryan, R. L., Kaplan, R. and Grese, R.E. (2001). “Predicting volunteer commitment in environmental stewardship programmes”, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 44(5), 629-648

Sobels, J., Curtis A. and Lockie S. (2001). “The role of Landcare group networks in rural Australia: exploring the contribution of social capital”, Journal of Rural Studies 17 (3): 265-276

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