What does International Women’s Day Mean to Me? By Stephanie Schmidt

08.03.21

Words by Stephanie Schmidt
2020 AgriFutures SA Rural Women’s Award Winner

In February 2020 at the Thriving Women’s Conference, I listened to Fiona Simpson, President of the National Farmers Federation, tell a room full of 200 bright, fierce and achieving women that they cannot do it all. This was life changing for me. However, I still have to work hard to listen to this advice.

As I sit down to write this, in the last 24 hours I have worked on getting the BAS completed for the farm business I have with my husband, I have had a strategy session for ACTforAg – my project I’m developing as the 2020 Agrifutures SA Rural Women’s Award Winner, I have shifted sheep ready for shearing, I attended my 6 year old’s school assembly, had a mug thrown by my 3 year old because the TV wasn’t working, was up through the night with my 7 month old, and have a few days of dishes on the sink that I haven’t gotten too yet.

For me, International Women’s Day is a day of celebration of women for all we do and have achieved, but it is also a reminder and a day of advocacy of how far we have to go. The theme of IWD2021 is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”.

Over the past 12 months I have seen in my friends, family and wider community, the incredible roles that women have played through the COVID-19 pandemic. Women have been on the front line in health and education, and interestingly, countries with women in leadership positions have had better outcomes with lower COVID-19 death rates.

Despite this, the toll on women has been great. The mother load or mental load has increased, with women bearing a disproportionate burden when it comes to home schooling, parenting, helping their children and communities manage the pressure and uncertainty of COVID-19, often while still continuing to work from home themselves.

I see that women in my generation have grown up with the belief that “we can be anything”, but I think at times we take this to mean “we must be everything”.

 

In rural Australia I see women leading every single day. Every one of the women I know leads within her home, her family, her workplace, her community. Women are keeping the cogs turning behind the scenes for almost all community organisations. We also have some incredible opportunities to step into leadership within rural Australia.

I have been lucky enough to be part of just a few of these, including the National Rural Women’s Coalition Canberra Muster in 2018, a committee member of the 2020 Thriving Women’s Conference, which celebrated leadership and women’s roles in agriculture, and most recently as the 2020 AgriFutures SA Rural Women’s Award Winner.

I am inspired by the number of women connected to agriculture who are in leadership positions both at the high-end and at the everyday level; from Fiona Simpson, Catherine Marriott, and the alumni of both NRWC and AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award who continue to lift as they rise, encouraging, supporting and cheering each other on.

We can do anything, but we can’t do everything

What I see, is that women keep on doing more and more. We have fantastic opportunities to step into leadership, and I also see that women are courageous and fierce, making opportunities happen when they see a need – taking charge to change what is not working within their communities. I sometimes worry about the toll this can take.

I see that women in my generation have grown up with the belief that “we can be anything”, but I think at times we take this to mean “we must be everything”. We cannot do everything, not all at the same time. When we try to do everything, it takes its toll on our relationships, our families, our communities, and most importantly, ourselves.

If women keep stepping into gaps to make changes and strive for a better world and healthier, thriving communities – how do we move towards the idea that “we can do anything, but we can’t do everything”?

Well, I think it starts with moving towards equality. Raising our girls and boys to know that they too can do anything, but that the systems need to change so that women are not trying to do more and more. We need to continue to gently, but fiercely, challenge our social systems where it is accepted and often expected that women bear most of the load at home, while often working, and taking additional leadership roles in the community.

We need to break down the ideal of the “perfect woman”, the “perfect mother”, to be able to recognise that it is a team effort.

Shining a light on the realities of work/life balance

Amongst the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown at us, some of the most dramatic shifts and improvements have been an increased transparency and honesty about the work/life balance.

I presented at the Adelaide University Psychology Careers night, via zoom, with my 6, 3 and 6-week-old boys at home with me alone. Demands on the farm meant that my husband was not home as planned, however what it meant was that the psychology students were given a birds-eye view into the challenges of work/home life.

While in some ways this feels like it contradicts my argument that we can’t do it all, I think transparency of the challenges is the only way to move forward to make sure that we don’t assume that everyone else is superhuman when it looks like they are “doing it all”.

 

How do we move forward?

We need to move forward with courage, trust, respect, and honesty.

We need courage to start to make small changes, for ourselves and our wider communities and trust in ourselves to make the decisions which are right for us in that moment.

We need to trust (and if needed, create) a support team around us, so that we are not attempting to do it all. And we need to trust and allow those around us to take on roles, in their own way.

We need to trust dads to be dads, if we are heading out for an evening leaving dad at home to parent, then let them stay home and be the parent – let’s step back from making sure everything is managed to a T.

We need to lead from within – to trust and respect ourselves. Set boundaries, and know that we can say no.

We need to practice courage to do things differently; the courage to put ourselves first, because if we look after ourselves, we can then look after everyone else.

We need honesty and transparency within our roles and what we do, because none of us have it all together – it just looks like that from the other side.

I think it starts with moving towards equality. Raising our girls and boys to know that they too can do anything, but that the systems need to change so that women are not trying to do more and more.

 

We can practice stepping back from the “all or nothing” thoughts that tend to trap us. I’ve realised that I can still have a pretty amazing relationship with my husband, take on some awesome opportunities of my own, and practice making time to stop and feel the grass under my toes while I play footy with my boys, but only when I actually step back from all the noise in my mind about how things “should” be different.

My hope is that in 30 years’ time, when my sons are my age now, that they can be #GenerationEquality – that International Women’s Day is just a day of celebration for all that women do and are.

That we no longer face the significant disparities in gender that are currently seen globally.

That the world can be a place of gender equality, where there is equality across pay, roles, and equal participation in all areas of life both public and private.

Because this doesn’t just benefit women, it benefits all of us – when women do well, we all do well.