By Maureen Bishop
Jeanette Tarbotton has just returned from the international conference of the Associated Country Women of the World.
When Jeanette Tarbotton’s husband suggested she should go to a meeting of Women’s Division Federated Farmers, she wasn’t sure it was for her.
Now, more than 50 years later, membership of the organisation has taken her around the world many times.
The decision taken by her late husband, Colin, to ask a neighbour to take his wife to the local branch of WDFF, had far reaching effects.
Mrs Tarbotton, of Ashburton, is just home from attending the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) triennial conference at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England – along with 600 other women.
It is the eighth such conference she has attended in various parts of the world.
WDFF, now known as Rural Women New Zealand, has been associated with ACWW since its early days and remains one of the 412 member societies of the organisation found in 74 countries.
Mrs Tarbotton, a former national president of Rural Women, was conference organiser when ACWW held its conference in Christchurch in 1995.
She has also served on the board of ACWW and has been president of the South Pacific area, a role which took her to all the Pacific Island member countries, except Niue.
The attraction of the conferences these days is people.
“The interest for me is meeting up with people from all over the world and hearing their perspective.”
At each conference, projects undertaken during the previous three years are outlined.
“I think that is their greatest work,” Mrs Tarbotton said.
During the past three years, 60 projects were funded which directly supported more than 12,000 women and nearly 8,000 children. An additional 48,000 family members were also supported.
A total of 630 poor rural women were assisted through self-employment projects to boost income and support their families and 434 women farmers were assisted to increase their knowledge, share techniques and improve yields.
More than 7,400 people benefited from water and sanitation projects.
“When member societies raise the money for projects, it goes to the people on the ground,” Mrs Tarbotton said. “All the projects are monitored and if one should slip through the system and the money doesn’t get through, it’s not usually the fault of the women’s group.”
ACWW does not implement projects but rather funds them and works in partnership with grassroots organisations in developing countries.
In 1936, as ACWW developed and needed an office, it was decided that each year every member society should collect one penny – or its equivalent – from each of its members to allow the organisation to continue.
The scheme, known as Pennies for Friendship, continues today and funds the organisation’s administration. The currency may have changed but last year 192,908 pounds was raised.
Project funding comes from member societies and other sources.
Resolutions on this year’s agenda covered a wide range of topics. They included urging governments to ban food and drink manufacturers from claiming their sweetened products were healthier if they used fructose as a sweetener, promoting sustainable energy, the gathering of information from all sources on fracking before allowing shale gas exploration, protecting the supply of water, and encouraging vaccination against potentially eradicable disease.
Recommendations to the conference covered identifying and caring for illegal immigrant border children, showing compassion and humanity and providing assistance to refugees and regulating the gold mining industry.
Six years ago when the conference was held in Finland, Mrs Tarbotton met two women singers from Latvia who had been sponsored to attend.
This year, they funded their own attendance.
“They are now recognised by their government and are able to be part of a global organisation working on issues such as violence against women and girls, and the trafficking of minors,” Mrs Tarbotton said. “Their perseverance really impressed me.”
What also struck her was the number of younger women coming through the organisation, particularly in Asia. The next conference in 2019 is in Melbourne.