Saturday, March 28, 2009


I so enjoyed the speakers, camaraderie and feeling of connection with the community when I was a member of the Worthington Women's Club that I "quick-smart" joined the CWA upon my arrival in Perth. The Country Women's Association, although not strictly just country, offers socialization, support and advocacy for women and family issues.
If you have ever seen the movies "Babe" or "Calendar Girls", you've gotten a snapshot of these organizations-"Calendar Girls" representing Britain's Women's Institute. It can be entirely too easy to dismiss the CWA as a bunch of 'chinwaggers' holding bake sales, selling cookbooks and knitting baby booties for maternity hospitals. Indeed, the CWA does raise money for their multitudes of good works by selling 'slices', cookies and crafts. And the hospitals count on the donated baby bundles to send newborns home in. The CWA makes its collective voice known on a variety of issues including: complete labelling of imported food products, ATM keypads more accessible to the visually impaired and other social issues heading to state and federal legislators. It builds & maintains holiday cottages and sponsors scholarships for country nurses. The CWA in Australia joins similar organizations in 61 other countries as an NGO acting in an advisory capacity to the United Nations.

I think the single most convincing aspect of its viability, visibility and power is demonstrated in an annual event by a major grocery store chain. Woolworths donates the profits from a single day's sales to help farmers affected by drought, floods and fire. Rather than trying to disburse the funds themselves, Woolworths hands the money over to the organization with an established infrastructure, the state office of each CWA, for appropriate disposition. Everyone-Woolworths, CWA and petitioning farmers-wins.

On country drives, I like to look at the "CWA Centres"-tiny little clubhouses with storybook landscaping around it. In Harvey, I finally got to go inside one. Built in 1931 for £12 and renovated 70 years later for $15,000, it is an alternate community center for the town. It is also an example of the changing face of the CWA. The Harvey branch has six members remaining. Four of these members are active, two of those four are in their nineties. They do a fantastic job with their available resources and I figure they could boost membership numbers by offering cooking lessons to young women raised on fast food. But a more likely reality is the closing of the branch when no one is left standing. Even the national statistics indicate dwindling troops to do the work: approx. 25,500 in 1500 branches around the States and Territory = an average of 17 per branch. Ours has 21 members and the president had my hand in an iron grip when I first cast a shadow upon the door.

And still, the ladies of the CWA soldier on.

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