Saskatchewan Women's Agricultural Network
"Women’s groups" can be a dicey topic, and Sask Women in Ag has experienced their fair share of criticism over the years. But, did you know that a woman in Ag group actually existed many years ago in Saskatchewan, and dates back to the mid 80’s?
Jean Harrington, is a grain farmer from Glenside, Sask. She is also a director for the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and an appointed member of the Western Standards Committee for the Canadian Grain Commission. Jean also serves as chair of the Pulse subcommittee. We had the opportunity to chat with Jean, who was a previous board member on what was known as Saskatchewan Women’s Agricultural Network (SWAN).
SWAN was formed in the mid-80s to address a need for rural women to connect and to provide a forum for discussions on some of the issues that women in the industry face. Remember, this was pre-social media, so connecting with other people was much more difficult than it is today. Jean had the pleasure of being on the SWAN board for approximately 3 years including serving on the founding board of the organization. The group held two conferences every year on a variety of topics. Some of these topics, such as farm stress and mental health, are topics that we are still talking about today. (Thank goodness our interest rates today aren’t what they were in the 80’s!)
Although Jean was not one of the original founders of the group, she explained that it was started by a group of proactive women who wanted to help with the sense of isolation that many farm women were experiencing. SWAN’s mission was to provide support, encouragement and education to farm women through their newsletters and conferences. They also worked to improve the status of rural women, recognize the contributions of farm women, address the need for education and support services in rural areas, and lobby on policy issues.
SWAN experienced criticism in the industry. At the time, there were a few men’s organizations and media outlets that were critical of the group. But according to Jean, they experienced far less criticism than they initially anticipated when the group started. As time went on, the group eventually dissolved in the late 80’s due to polarized political views within the group.
So what was Jean’s advice to Sask Women in Ag?
"Choose issues wisely. Avoid becoming polarized by political views and work to support women in the industry no matter what their beliefs may be. We are all in this together.”
Thank-you to Jean Harrington for taking the time to talk with us about SWAN and for sharing her own personal leadership journey. We have lots to learn from successful woman in the industry such as Jean. Jean is also one of our mentors through the Sask Women in Ag mentorship program: To learn more visit: https://www.womeninag.ca/the-wia-team/ .