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Permalink to original version of “A fight for female space: the Australian Women’s Shed movement” A fight for female space: the Australian Women’s Shed movement

I’d like to introduce you to the Australian Women’s Shed movement, starting with some background.

It’s rumoured that Women’s Sheds started sometime during the 1990s, and officially started around the middle of the 1990s, with a steady growth as the years have rolled on.

However, this start date may not be strictly correct, but it’s very difficult to find any information proving otherwise. So I’m hoping that some of my Aussie sisters who read this may be able to give me some correction and assistance in establishing a better start date.

The idea of having a place for women to congregate, to communicate and to care for each other freely without judgement, was initiated first by Australian Vietnam Veterans. Again, I cannot find a date for this, no matter what I type into Google. So I’m hoping some Aussie Vietnam Vets might know the dates and facts around these gatherings and can enlighten us.

A lot of these women were treated like criminals and especially rejected by the Returned Soldiers League in Australia, upon their return. It has taken a long time for them to be treated with even a modicum of respect, and before I go any further with this article I would like to make a short personal statement regarding my Sisters who fought in Vietnam:

I would like to say here officially. Thank you to all those women who were forced to go fight a dirty war that we should have never been in, in the first place. It was not your fault, because you were under orders. I feel privileged to be in your company. Your sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Sisters you (and we) lost while in battle, is not lost on me. So I thank you!


Now back to the article!

The Vietnam Vets were going away on retreat camps to escape society, so they could just spend time freely among their own, without the pressures of a judgemental society hanging over their shoulders. This was happening in the 1980s, when I remember seeing reports on TV about it. When it was that they decided to ‘urbanise’ their meeting places, is another fact I cannot find.

Being proven such an efficacious program for our Vets and a huge help to lonely women, such fraternal gatherings soon took hold within the general population of women. Which brings us back to the mid-1990s and the emergence of Women’s Sheds.

This Wiki page gives a very basic overview of what happened in the mid-1990s with the formal establishment of the movement. I am loathe to use Wiki, but it does summarise some points I think are pertinent to this discussion.

The Wiki page also gives you a good idea of the negative impact on the Women’s Shed movement by other community organisations and the governments in each state, which is a direct negative effect of Gynocentrism. There was not necessarily any direct government ruling or use of laws per se, but funding grants and removal of red tape, usually came with strings attached. If the Women’s Sheds agreed to allow ‘Community’ involvement, which is PC speak for allowing men in to the Sheds, they would receive the funding.

Indeed this did happen to our Shed when we applied for a funding grant, but so far we have resisted having men. I know however that the clock is ticking!

I have to say here that very little would have happened without the funding, so we are all very grateful for this. It just would have been more beneficial to women if the Sheds could remain for women only and that the grants didn’t have strings attached.

There is no escaping the pressure to restrict women having any place of their own without any men as members or any male involvement within the organising or controlling Committees.

Many Sheds started off as women only, but were soon taken over by men. All you need is a few ‘White Dames’ on the Committee with enough numbers to take control, then they introduce men into the membership and the numbers of women dwindle quickly, with their vacancies taken up by men.

In my own region, recently there was an ad in the local newspaper for an expression of interest for any men who would like to start up a group similar to the Women’s Shed. I saw the ad as a foreboding and ominous cloud looming in the distance.

From what I know they have had little to no interest. What worries me is that one day when these men find out just how wonderful our facilities are, they will have jealous designs upon this prize and will seek to usurp control over it. We will, however, fight this for as long as we can!

At this point in the article, I would like to introduce you to the Australian Women’s Shed Association (AMSA).

The Association was established in 2007, and “At the 2nd National Mens Shed Conference in Womanly during September 2007, Professor Barry Golding, Women’s Shed researcher from the University of Ballarat, stated in her key note address that “Women don’t talk face to face they talk shoulder to shoulder”. This drew unanimous mutterings of approval from all 350 delegates and the quote became the Australian Women’s Shed Associations motto.”

If you visit the above website, I recommend you spend a fair amount of time looking around it because it’s very informative and has a lot of tools to aid in setting up a new Women’s Shed. I’m almost certain that they will assist women in other countries with starting up their own Sheds too.

At our Shed we are members of AMSA, because it gives us many opportunities and benefits, like cheap liability insurance. This is something all Sheds must have and if you have established an association with a fairly large membership of functioning viable Sheds, then you can hunt around for an insurance company that will give discounted insurance to the Association and its members. It is a community project, so insurance companies will often help out organisations such as these with cheap insurance policies.

From the AMSA website you can see all sorts of programs for women that you can put in place within your own Shed, or simply think of your own. The only requisite for membership to a Women’s Shed is that you are a woman. Race, colour, creed, is never under consideration, because within the Shed we are all Sisters!

As for what happens within your Shed, it’s entirely up to the membership. Just like here at AVfM, if you want something to happen or change then stick your hand up and be a part of the solution. Otherwise, just shut up!

The Meeting Room

Finally, I would like to speak a little about the most integral part of a Women’s Shed. This is the Meeting Room.

The Meeting Room is by far the most important part of the facility. And that room, may very well start off being a backyard shed.

Yes women like to ‘do things together,’ where they can chat at the same time. This actually suits some women more because most women seem to be more comfortable opening up, if they have a problem, when they have something else to do at the same time which can be used as a circuit breaker if the troubled woman is feeling a bit too vulnerable. She can stop the conversation at any time and go about the job without feeling embarrassed or judged in any way at all.

However, the greatest benefit to all women is gained in the time spent just being together talking about the week they just had, or about the idiots in government, or how the latest football match went, etc, etc and on goes the subject matter. There is absolutely none of this sitting around in a circle crying about your problems and taking your turn to say how bad your feelings are hurt. If ever a Shed did do that they would have very few members.

Women are not men!

And because women are not men we have different ways of dealing with problems.

One of those ways is we have experts come in to give us talks on subjects that, as a group, we have decided we would like to know a bit more about. And yes it can be of a psychological and emotional nature. If you have an expert there doing the talking and giving the information out in pamphlets, you can go home armed with some very good info and then decide for yourself whether you do anything about it. And believe me this does happen, because we have had gals close to the edge in our Shed, but now they are fully functioning and very healthy women. And it happened because they were given the right information and the support from other members.

As some of you know I get a bit emotional when talking about how good women are. I am easily aroused into anger when I see the innocence of women attacked and vilified, but I am always pleasantly surprised by just how charitable and caring most women are. The surprise is not there because it is out of the ordinary. It comes to me because I see these women openly caring for others even though they know they will be judged and criticised in the public arena.

In the Shed, when one of our elder members comes in the door, there are always women ready to assist her to her chair and a cuppa is provided for her.

I would like to add a quote here from the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed (South Australia), which sums up nicely why the Sheds should exist:

“Good health is based on many factors including feeling good about yourself, being productive and valuable to your community, connecting to friends and maintaining an active body and an active mind. Becoming a member of a Women’s Shed gives a woman that safe and busy environment where she can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Women can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa if that is all they’re looking for.

Members of Women’s Sheds come from all walks of life – the bond that unites them is that they are women with time on their hands and they would like something meaningful to do with that time.

Because women don’t make a fuss about their problems, these problems have consistently been either ignored or swept under the mat by both our health system and our modern society.

It’s time for a change and the Women’s Shed movement is one of the most powerful tools we have in helping women to once again become valued and valuable members of our community.”

Men for too long have claimed the moral high ground on charity and caring when the fact is most of this has always been facilitated by women. It is women who have instituted and run most of the charities that exist, be they community organisations or religious. The Women’s Shed Movement is yet another area where the kindness and charity of women is so very evident, acting as a portal of community care and service.

For the sake of women’s health and wellbeing the Women’s Shed Movement must expand and fight for its independence from the interference of government, men and opposing community groups.

Thank you for reading this article. I do hope you consider starting up your own Sheds. I am very happy to answer any questions if I can. Most of what I know is what we have done in starting up our own Shed and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.