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Supporting Riverina women amidst COVID-19 disruption

Women and girls around the world have suffered an outsized impact on their lives and livelihoods as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their jobs have proved more vulnerable than men’s, largely because women tend to carry the greater share of unpaid care and domestic duties under lockdown.
Supporting Riverina women amidst COVID-19 disruption

Elizabeth from Rural Support Services

The situation is even more pressing in rural areas, where women already faced various challenges in their daily lives. They are less likely to have access to high-quality health services than women in urban areas and are more likely to suffer from isolation.

For these reasons, the United Nations is encouraging the global community to focus on building the resilience of rural women as we observe International Day of Rural Women on October 15.

Elizabeth Johnson is a counsellor with Relationship Australia Canberra & Region’s Rural Support Services team, which provides free outreach support to isolated and vulnerable people across the Riverina. She agrees that the past 18 months of the pandemic - with restrictions on travel and movement, and periodic lockdowns - have heightened issues and feelings of isolation for many in the community.

“COVID has definitely made people in the Riverina feel more isolated,” she said. “Many older or vulnerable people in the community are frightened to come out of their homes, so they’ve lost interactions with friends and acquaintances at the shops or the local pub.

“The festivals and agricultural shows haven’t gone ahead for two years - these used to be a social hub for many people.”

The impact is also being felt by younger members of the community, she added.

“We’ve also started working with a few younger farming couples, where a woman may be the primary caregiver, working part time and also working on the farm. It’s a huge amount to balance amidst the ongoing emotional and mental stress of the pandemic.

“Rural women are amazing and they deserve all the support people can give them.”

Ultimately, the aim of Rural Support Services is to empower isolated and vulnerable people to have a voice. There is a strong focus on helping people to communicate what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling, as well as listening to others. These are skills that may not be traditionally prioritised in rural areas, where people have been raised to work very long days - leaving little time to focus on communication skills.

Rural people are often quite stoic, however Elizabeth encourages anyone who thinks they may need support or help to reach out.

“Don’t wait until things are really bad before you access help,” she said. “Perhaps you just need some support to enhance your relationship - even with great marriages, there are small improvements you can make.

“Having an independent person to talk to can really help, and you know the service is private and confidential - any information you discuss is not going elsewhere, even in a small town.”

For more information about our Rural Support Services, contact our Riverina office on (02) 6923 9100.

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