The CWA is getting stuck into the gender-neutrality debate. Yes, really

The Annual State Conference for NSW CWA is underway this week. Picture source: Pixabay

When you think of the Country Women’s Association, chances are you think about women who work on improving the lives of families in rural Australia, perhaps while perfecting a scone recipe or honing their skills as a seamstress.

It’s true that the historic group focuses largely on the lives on people in country Australia, which is what makes an article by the Daily Telegraph even more surprising. The newspaper reports inner-city progressives from Sydney have joined the New South Wales organisation in a brazen attempt to push their ‘leftie’ views on an organisation that’s been running since 1922.

And if the report is anything to go by, the newcomers and their views are certainly upsetting the applecart. The upset’s apparently being felt at the New South Wales branch’s 2018 Annual State Conference, where one of the motions put forward by the city-dwellers who’ve joined the CWA is a push for gender-neutral uniforms to become compulsory in public schools across New South Wales.

With so many other issues facing kids in rural communities, the move raises questions as to why the largest women’s organisation in Australia is debating school uniforms, given that most school communities have a say in the uniforms children wear anyway. 

But the Daily Telegraph says its the very PC-ness of the debate that’s bothering some longer-standing CWA members (the newspaper reckons the uniform motion was originally put forward a Sydney City Branch member), with some country women calling the discussion points put forward by newer members as “political correctness gone mad”.

(A number of other topics will also be raised during the conference, including a motion supporting women’s rights to legally access abortions in New South Wales, and another calling for better protection for paramedics and other health workers.)

It should be said that NSW CWA President Danica Leys made clear she had no problem with the progressive topics, telling the Telegraph that the association was far less old-fashioned than many people thought.

The uniform issue is likely to get short shrift in the broader forum in any case, given that NSW Secondary Principals’ Council President Chris Presland already rejected such a move, saying the decision should come down to individual schools.

But the CWA, of which NSW has the largest membership contingent, hasn’t always been a benign group of ladies discussing baking, despite its conservative image. Academic Sharon Crozier-De Rosa wrote in 2014 that the CWA was ahead of its time in advocating for equal pay for women and campaigning on environmental issues.

So perhaps the interest in gender-neutrality isn’t so misplaced after all.

What do you think? Should the CWA be focused only on ‘country issues’ and reserve itself to more conservative viewpoints?

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