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Our History - from small beginnings

The beginning of the Women’s Division of the Farmer’s Union came in 1925 when a number of farmers’ wives were on holiday in Wellington while their husbands attended the Farmers’ Union Conference.

They heard of the hard, lonely lives of many farm women: the unceasing toil, the mud track roads, rivers unbridged.

But what really touched their hearts were the stories of backblock women, of their loneliness and illness and the lack of help. Some of the women had experienced these conditions themselves, and so sixteen of the women agreed to set up a Women’s Division of the Farmer’s Union to see what could be done to help.

Our first president was Mrs Polson, while others took on other roles. Then home everyone went, some clear on the issue, some not realising in the least the huge scope of the undertaking.

Back on the farms the question for most was what to do.  It was one thing to offer help and another to know just how to give it.

Mrs Jackson, the treasurer, wrote 2,000 letters in the first year alone. The first branch opened in Oakura in June 1926 and by the first conference in 1926 there were a hundred paid up members.

It was decided to form as many branches of possible (in 2017 there are 164 branches and 2000 strong membership).

One of the prime needs for rural women was to organise reliable help to step in when women were ill or had to leave home. So began the Women’s Division Emergency Housekeeping Scheme. In April 1927 advertisements appeared in the New Zealand press for ‘housekeeper, willing to do anything’ and ‘bush nurse, with surgical and midwifery certificates’.

It was realised the wages to pay such women, who could walk into a household and take over its running - including milking the cow and looking after all the children - would be beyond the means of the farmer, so our new organisation set up a Community Chest fund to subsidise their wages, with donations from members all over the country.

At first the number of women employed as housekeepers and nurses was small. The Government then began to set up better facilities in the form of cottage hospitals and district nurses and the need for bush nurses disappeared.  However the need for help in the home continued to grow.

It was the most important and main work of the WDFU “owing to the reliable and capable women sent out to the homes – women who can take charge of a home of six or eight children, or even twelve children, cook, wash and even milk a few cows at a pinch.”

By the 1990s this work became highly regulated.  Today Rural Women New Zealand is still involved in the sector through policy work with government ministries, health boards and heath services.  

Women’s Division of the Farmer’s Union was later renamed Women’s Division Federated Farmers, and at its peak in the 1970s had over 21,000 members.

During the Second World War a call to help saw our members raise $5,000 in a month to fund a Spitfire. The fighter plane with the name WDNZFU inscribed on it had a long and interesting career and was piloted in the first instance by the son of one of our members from Levin Branch, Flt. Lieut. L P Griffith DFC.

Women’s Division, now Rural Women New Zealand, has always been actively involved in rural communities, helping to make them a better place. Our vision is “Growing Dynamic Communities”, and we have achieved this in so many ways, big and small.


In the 1970s and 1980s our members raised some $200,000 for leptospirosis research, which played a key role in the development of vaccines for dairy cattle and pigs, thus improving the health of the animals and reducing the risk of contracting this serious disease by farm workers.  In 2009 we re-launched this fundraising campaign and raised a further $107,000 to fund PhD students at Massey University looking into transmission pathways for leptospirosis, following the death of a meat worker at a sheep-only plant.


In 2010 we ran the highly successful "Let's Get Plastered for Breast Cancer Campaign", raising awareness of this disease and its prevention, as well as funds for the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation.


You’ll find lots more about our present activities on this website.  Our four main areas of interest are centred around rural health, education, land use and social issues.

Read All NewsRecent news

(Pictured above: Minister Damien O'Çonnor meeting with RWNZ Chief Executive Officer Penelope England, National President Fiona Gower, National Chair Penny Mudford and Manager of Government, Public Sector and Academic Relationships Angela McLeod.)


Rural Women New Zealand has released a media release supporting the recent announcement to reintegrate rural proofing into policy development. Please read the media release below. 



Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is pleased to see rural proofing is back on the table and being included in the Government’s policy work.

“Understanding the impact that Government policies, service delivery and business behaviour have on our rural communities is not only vital to the success of the rural economy, it builds and maintains our rural social fabric,” says RWNZ National President, Fiona Gower.

“RWNZ has been calling for rural impact analyses to be carried out in both the public and private sector because decisions have, and are being made that have a detrimental effect on rural communities.

“As a member of the advisory group that supported the development of the Government’s new Rural Proofing Guide for Policy Development and Service Delivery Planning, RWNZ is encouraged by the final document.

“RWNZ will continue to work alongside the Government, its agencies and entities to ensure successful implementation of the Rural Proofing Guide.

“The Government’s new rural proofing policy guidelines will go a long way to alleviating poor policy development and service delivery, and RWNZ is looking forward to seeing better outcomes for rural communities,” says Ms Gower.



For further information, please contact National Office:

[email protected]





Rural Proofing Back On the Table

Thursday, June 14, 2018

 Read More


Rural Women New Zealand would like to congratulate Alison Van Wyk for her appointment as CEO of Access Community Health. 



Alison has a background in nursing and possesses sales, marketing and management experience within the pharmaceutical, medical device and healthcare supply chain markets both within New Zealand and internationally. Instrumental in establishing professional programmes of clinical care and advice in pharmacy and the reclassification of medicines for Green Cross Health, Alison has taken a leadership role in advocacy for pharmacy and government relations within the health industry.

Alison commenced her new role effective 18 June 2018.


Rural Women New Zealand has released a media release following the announcement this morning that the Government are giving a funding boost to help improve child and family wellbeing. 


Read the relevant media here.



The announcement this morning that the Government will be giving family violence services a boost of $76.2 million is a step in the right direction for our women and families, says Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ).

“New Zealand’s rate of violence against women and children is unacceptable – it is great to see the Government increasing support services for women, families, and communities in need," says RWNZ National Chair, Penny Mudford.

The Government also announced that additional funding in 2019/2020 would enable services to expand into areas where there is currently no support.

“Women and children living in rural New Zealand have particular challenges and can be vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse due to their geographic and social isolation.

“For some, living rurally means they are some distance from their families and whānau and do not have the support that the wider family can provide.

“Family violence victims in rural New Zealand do not have the same level of access to psychological and legal support as urban women and children do, due to living rurally.

“RWNZ hope that this boost announced by the Government will be used to empower our rural communities by giving women and children who are victims of violence the help and support they so badly need,” says Ms Mudford.


Rural Women New Zealand have released a media release raising our concerns for how data is being collected in this year's census.

Please read the media release below.


This year’s census is in danger of not providing the data needed to make good decisions, says Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ).

“Whilst we understand and support the excitement of capturing our census data online, our concern is that many people still do not have access to internet while others might not have the capability or capacity to do so,” says National President, Fiona Gower.

“The timing of the delivery of access code letters, which indicate that New Zealanders can opt for paper forms presents challenges for our rural communities, given that delivery of mail is taking longer and might only be delivered three days a week.

“The chances of a rural household without internet or with unreliable internet, receiving census paper forms in time for Tuesday, 6 March is slim, and that is concerning.

“RWNZ is doing everything possible to ensure our networks are aware of the new way of doing the Census although surely more thought should have gone in to how the valuable information about the lives and status of New Zealanders would be collected.

“Maybe this year, there could have been a concerted effort to use both electronic collection and paper collection to ensure integrity of the data,” says Ms Gower.



Please contact the National Office for more information.



National Office

Rural Women New Zealand


[email protected]

04 473 5524



(image source: www.census.govt.nz)

Census Data Collection Integrity Questioned

Monday, February 26, 2018

Rural Women New Zealand have released a media release raising our concerns for how data is being collected in this year's census.  Read More

Rural Women New Zealand has today released a media release following the announcement that the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ) will move to shut down if it does not receive funding.

Read the announcement here.  




Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) are saddened to see that the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ) will cease operating if it does not receive government funding next week.


“RWNZ supports the work already done by RHAANZ in bringing together various rural groups and rural health providers to develop initiatives for rural communities,” says RWNZ Board Member and Health Portfolio Convenor, Margaret Pittaway.

“Remarkable work has been done to deliver the Rural Health Road Map which sets out a plan and priorities for achieving healthily rural communities.

“Being geographically isolated, often with significant distance to the nearest town or health centre means that rural communities have an immediate need of affordable and reliable access to all health services.

“The Government has committed to rural proofing government policy, and RHAANZ has a vital part to play in this development – without the continuation of RHAANZ, and the work it does, rural communities will go backwards.

“There is no other place where issues impacting the health and wellbeing of rural communities are considered concurrently, and the loss of achievements met and efforts made by RHAANZ will be detrimental for our rural people.

RWNZ urges the Government to recognise the good work that has been done by RHAANZ and to support its continuation," says Mrs Pittaway.




Another setback for health and wellbeing of rural communities.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Rural Women New Zealand has today released a media release following the announcement that the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ) will move to shut down if it does not receive funding. Read More

Rural Women New Zealand has released a media release regarding our involvement to help support communities affected by the M.bovis outbreak. With 38 farms currently infected, and others under movement control, we encourage farmers to contact their local Rural Support Trust and visit MPI’s website for advice and support.


Read more about this here.

Read the media release below.




  Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) has offered their full support to the Government for communities that are affected by the Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) outbreak. This announcement was made in a meeting earlier this week with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity Damien O’Connor, and Waikato dairy farmers, then reiterated with industry leaders.


“Our rural communities are really hurting in this unprecedented biosecurity outbreak – it is vital they are supported throughout this response, no matter what future plan is decided next week,” says RWNZ National President Fiona Gower.

“From what I saw on Monday and what we are hearing from our members and others in the industry, it is clear that the response to M. bovis is upsetting and we are pleased to have been able to offer our support.

“Since 1925, RWNZ members have been the glue that holds rural communities together and nearly 100 years later we continue by working with Rural Support Trusts, visiting farming families, and offering funding for adverse events.

“The decision to offer our full support comes from recent meetings with industry leaders and the Minister, and from our many years’ experience supporting rural communities.

“We are pleased that RWNZ can continue our tradition of charitable giving and we look forward to working with the Government and industry to ensure rural communities are fully supported through the M. bovis outbreak,” says Ms Gower.