Those were also years when Wowchuk, a teacher by trade, was organizing Ukrainian dance clubs, working with 4-H programs, cooking at fall suppers, and volunteering with multiple community groups, while raising three kids.
Wowchuk offered the candid glimpse of her personal life at the Manitoba Farm Women’s conference last week, describing her pre-government days as those any rural woman would identify with.
Her political service is another matter. Wowchuk first served as a councillor and deputy reeve with the Rural Municipality of Mountain, has been the MLA for Swan River since 1990, became the province’s first female agriculture minister in 1999, and then became minister of fi- nance last year.
Wowchuk urged more rural and farm women to seize leadership opportunities as they arise, including political ones.
“These opportunities are there for many more women,” she told an audience of about 100 farm and rural women.
Women certainly have the skills for these jobs, said Janet Smith, program manager of the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line, who joined Wowchuk on the panel.
Women tend to have very strong abilities as organizers, communicators and motivators, and they sharpen these skills through their community volunteer work, Smith said.
These are critical leadership skills but they are often “undervalued and invisible and, as a result, women don’t recognize their own capacity for leadership beyond a certain level,” she said.
Many women are also stretched by all they are doing and lack supports to take on additional leadership roles, said Smith, noting many women in agriculture are helping to run the farm while working off it, raising families, and volunteering for community work.
Mentors can and do play a very important role helping more women realize their potential for leadership, said Johanne Ross, the executive director of Manitoba Agriculture- in-the-Classroom.
One of hers was Ian Morrison, plant scientist at the University of Manitoba, she said. She recalled winding up in his office during her early days of her agricultural diploma program, overwhelmed and frustrated and telling Morrison she wasn’t sure she was cut out for university. But he had confidence in her and told her so, said Ross.
“I remember sitting in his offi ce and him telling me, ‘You are the only one who can make the difference here.’”
Ross completed her degree, began farming with her Minnedosa- area husband and today manages large teams of volunteers throughout Manitoba in her role with the ag education program.
She noted effective leaders also develop the ability to enable and support others in what they’re doing.
Beth Connery, chair of the 2010 conference, said she hopes those who listened to the panel’s stories take home a new appreciation of their own capabilities.
“Women need to recognize that they are leaders, because many of them don’t,” she said. “They just think they’re doing their normal day-to-day stuff, the volunteer stuff, with the teams, the school, 4-H and whatever else is required in the community.”
Connery challenged conference attendees to not only think about their own leadership potential but to mentor and encourage others to serve in leadership roles.
SheisarguablyManitoba’s mostpowerfulcabinet minister,theone
overseeingallspending andrevenuegeneration. ButFinanceMinister RosannWowchuk,whois alsodeputypremier,was onceafarmmomand ruralentrepreneur strugglingtosecurea lineofcredittostarta smallceramicsbusiness.
– FINANCE MINISTER ROSANN WOWCHUK
“Theseopportunities arethereformany morewomen.”