Australia is experiencing a major drought, one that has devastated the landscape and people for up to ten years. This major disaster has accelerated ongoing rural restructuring and created changes in the way farm family members order and live their lives. Yet despite evidence that drought is a gendered experience, that is, that generally women and men experience and respond to drought differently, and despite a rhetorical move to gender mainstreaming in Australian policy circles, drought policy remains significantly gender blind. In this article I use the example of emergency support to poverty stricken farm families to show how agricultural departments that attend to a notional norm of family farming as a unitary male pursuit can actively discriminate against women in their efforts to preserve the farm and support their families. The article exposes gender mainstreaming as an ‘empty signifier’ that is contextually grounded and that its success is highly dependent on making these issues transparent. For gender equity efforts to reach women at local levels, I argue that gender mainstreaming requires international collaboration by gender specialists to facilitate greater attention to gender assessments by national bodies. It also requires national coalitions of gender expert units, women’s organisations and academics to work together to expose culturally specific gendered issues and discriminatory outcomes.
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