Karen Pickering on the secret feminism of the CWA

I had the chance to attend a free talk given by Karen Pickering the other day on the CWA (Country Women’s Association) and its secret feminism. Below is the blurb for the event, and I think it provides a very good overview for what the talk was as well.

The Country Women’s Association is not often thought of as a feminist organisation … if at all. But with the current interest in women’s rights and spaces, it’s arguably a ready-made grassroots network for women to connect with one another. And with baking, sewing, and general craftiness also enjoying a revival of sorts, seeing a huge resurgence in popularity and deemed legitimacy, why is the Country Women’s Association, keeper of such knowledge, struggling to attract new members?

Karen Pickering discusses the cultural importance and history of the CWA, Australia’s largest women’s organisation, which strives to improve the conditions of women and children around Australia. She wonders how we can arrest the decline in membership, instead of standing by as the CWA literally dies out.

I think what struck me most about the talk is the fact that several friends and I have talked over the past several years about wanting to create a network to do the kind of work that the CWA does – community service, political advocacy, practical service in making a difference for women, children, families and community. We talked about creating a network, without realising that one already existed doing just that kind of work, and making that kind of difference, one that is even represented at a national level on some key organisational boards, one that has in the past been able to wield considerable political influence.

Once I’m settled into a place to live, I will seriously consider joining a branch of the CWA – they made it very clear that it was for all women, and not just for country women, and that while the organisation had a vibrant and strong tradition, that it is also prepared to evolve with the changing membership.

I also appreciated that in Pickering’s recounting of the historical highlights of the organisation, that she didn’t shy away from the fact that it’s largely a white, middleclass membership. That there are parts of the organisational history that are perhaps less shiny. Pickering mentioned that although there was lobbying somewhere around the 1960s for Aboriginal women to be included as members, that there was also some concern raised that it was more about assimilation than inclusion – and indeed I imagine both things could have been or perhaps were true. In any case, it’s *still* largely a white/middleclass organisation, but from Pickering’s comments at least, it seems that there is room for and invitation for that to change.

I’m not a crafting person, but I do love cooking, and I love that the CWA represents a very visible way of valuing the domestic work that women are often responsible for. However much we would also like to be valued for other work, for other contributions we make to society, being valued for the quality of domestic work – and what that looks like, is actually pretty awesome. Preserves! Quilting (not me, but others!) Cakes! Slices! All kinds of other things -and the opportunity connect with, to learn from, to share with, to teach, with other women. Also the opportunity to make a real and practical difference to people, to communities and especially to women and children.

Apparently there’s a new ‘Brunsberg’ branch of the CWA that spans as you might have guessed, Brunswick and Coburg in Melbourne. I am therefore hopeful for a Fitzwood or Collingroy branch when I manage to settle in somewhere near there!

At the height of membership (so far), the CWA had over 120 000 members! Now, it still boasts over 20 000 members. That’s an amazing network of very dedicated women, with some incredible skills and the desire to share them. Personally, I’m all for it, and maybe you might be interested too?

CWA Cookbook - Classics cover image

CWA Cookbook – Classics

3 thoughts on “Karen Pickering on the secret feminism of the CWA

  1. P says:

    It would love for them to reply to the email I sent to the national president ooh.. over a year ago now asking about their stance on membership for transwomen and genderqueer people. Some people would be happy to join but feel less welcome than others.

  2. ju says:

    I am sad they didn’t reply to you… the talk I saw was very open but whether that differs membership to membership remains to be seen. Ways in which people feel welcome or excluded is a big issue I think.

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