Rural Woman Zone is
an online community connecting women living in rural places in the United States.
When we started organizing in 1996, there was little information online that was specific to rural women in the U.S. Most organizational efforts focusing on rural women were limited to Third World countries. There were some rural women’s organizations in Canada and Australia, including their annual Rural Women’s Award program. The implication was that rural women in the United States had been absorbed into the dominant culture in a developed country and had no unique problems or goals in common to unite them.
The reality is
rural women in the United States face health disparities and are dying at a higher rate than women in urban areas and this problem has become worse, not better. Women living in rural places face problems including lack of access to land ownership and credit; lack of access to reproductive health services, prenatal care and obstetric services in local hospitals; high rates of substance abuse and lack of access to rehabilitation services and treatment; they need access to justice and support services for victims of gender-based violence including domestic violence and sexual assault; they face food deserts and chemical-based agriculture which create the need for locally grown and healthy foods, resources for working small farms, access to clean water and freedom from exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. They live in places where men dominate local boards and planning commissions, and, particularly if they are single, they lack social capital.
Not a contradiction in terms
Notably absent from resources and information available on the Internet was any rural feminist perspective. “Rural feminism” seemed to be a contradiction in terms. But many of the fundamental problems faced by rural women can be tied directly to the entrenched patriarchal systems in conservative rural places, where women’s province is the home and because they are discouraged from serving in positions of influence, problems are not priortized or addressed from their perspective.
We never insisted that women who joined the community label themselves as feminists, but anti-feminist, anti-womanist sentiment was not a part of the discourse.
We rise to meet this challenge
One challenge faced by scholars involved how to avoid colonizing the voices of rural women, and how instead to seriously face and understand the different contexts of rural women’s lives, not falling into the trap of portraying the universal rural woman as a white farm wife or as a Third World woman of color who appears as a the ultimate victim of patriarchy and capitalism. Feminist theorists… are caught in a bind. We call for marginalized groups of women to add their perspectives to feminist discourse and practice in order to enable subjects to speak for themselves, but we realize that the academic and literary worlds are closed or alien to many of these women.
— Carolyn Sachs, Gendered Fields: Rural Women,Agriculture, and Environment
For these and other reasons, we labeled ourselves the Third-and-a-Half World, and set up a website, Rural Womyn Zone, where we could gather around the issues that were important to us: maintaining community, addressing gender-based oppressions, developing and maintaining local services for victims of gender-based violence, providing information and support to women who were active in their local communities on these and other issues of women’s health and welfare.
The body of work developed during that time included research, articles, training materials, and art work. Now that we have moved the website to a new location, we will be adding back some archives so that information will be accessible again, as we stay current, update and develop this resource.