Cromwell woman on RWNZ board

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Health, education and social issues remain key areas of interest for Cromwell woman Margaret Pittaway, who has been elected to the newly established Rural Women New Zealand national board.

The board consists of national president Fiona Gower, national finance chairwoman Rachel Dean and four board members, two from the North Island and two from the South Island, who represent the organisation’s seven regions.

The board replaces the former National Council of Rural Women and was established under new rules and bylaws ratified by RWNZ membership at the national conference last year.

Mrs Pittaway, who lives on a lifestyle block 15km north of Cromwell with her semi-retired husband, Mike, joined the membership-based organisation in 1996 and was elected to the council in 2011.

A former nurse, she is also convener of the health portfolio, a founding member of the Central Otago Women in Agribusiness group and past president of the Cromwell RWNZ branch.

The new board structure represented a “huge change” for the organisation, Mrs Pittaway said.

“Its core role is as the governance body of Rural Women and also to be able to look at the long-term direction.”

While her specialty areas remained health and social issues, including rural policing, she was keen to see membership, especially among younger women, grow.

“We really have to try to get the younger ones in. Holding coffee mornings where they can bring their kids and at times learn basic skills in things like cooking, preserving and knitting are all possibilities.”

The role of women on farms had changed “so much” in recent years.

“Once cooking for shearers was a prime task. Now most contractors arrive with a full unit and provide own cooks.

“Women now have a very active, different role working alongside their husbands and helping manage the family farm.”

There was a real need to be mindful of mental wellness, domestic violence and rural suicide in the sector.

“Often women are carrying a real load, especially when times are difficult, as has been the case in the dairy industry and also during this year’s drought,” Mrs Pittaway said.

Networking and being aware of what was happening in an area were important tools.

The earthquake in Kaikoura last month clearly presented lasting repercussions and RWNZ branches were organising transport of baking and other goods to the North Canterbury town.

“A concern there is that once all the media attention dies away, many families could still be extremely isolated, emotionally as well as physically.”

Meanwhile, on their Cromwell block Mrs Pittaway and her husband run a “small flock” of sheep.

“We are actually real homebodies and love reading, cooking and gardening,” she said.