I had the pleasure of meeting recently with Ann Godderis and Jan Morton, two of the coordinators of the Trail and area Women Creating Change project. Ann and Jan presented me and my staff with an overview of this initiative, a partnership between the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre and the Trail Family and Individual Resource Centre Society (Trail FAIR).
We started out by watching a powerful DVD called Photo Voice that was assembled from photos taken by a group of eight Trail women living in poverty. Each woman’s voice gave examples of the kind of barriers that they encounter in their daily lives: lack of affordable childcare, transportation and housing; provincial social service policies that inhibit personal initiative; and a lack of hope for their and their children’s future.
The DVD was a bleak reminder of how far we still have to go as a society to ensure access to essential services for all families, regardless of their makeup or income level. You can view Photo Voice on the Women Creating Change website: womencreatingchange.org.
Jan and Ann then spoke about the aims of the Women Creating Change project and the work that has been done so far. The goal of the project is not to try to solve societal inequities on a large scale, but rather to address some of the specific conditions that prevent women in the Greater Trail region from entering sustainable, non-traditional employment fields. These include: affordable education, career planning and skills training; living wage employment opportunities; and affordable community services.
The project researchers looked at a variety of topics to gain insights into the realities of women who live in the project region. Their findings gave the Women Creating Change team a snapshot of the social factors that may support or limit economic security.
For example, more than half of the women in the region earn less than $24,000 annually, as compared to one-quarter of men.
One-third of the female labour force works in lower-wage occupations. And for every three female lone-parent families there is one male lone-parent family.
The project organizers devised a vision statement, the Lower Columbia Community Accord, which articulates the strategies for change that the project hopes to develop and implement.
The City of Trail was the first municipality to sign on to the Community Accord, and hopefully others will follow. Building community partnerships with local organizations, businesses and groups is another important step on the path to change.
Projecting into the future, the Women Creating Change 20/20 Vision proposes that by the year 2020, “equitable economic opportunities will be available for all women the Lower Columbia region.”
There are many small changes that can help to create work environments that better support women. For example, educating employers on the benefits of family-friendly workplaces—flexible working hours, alternate work arrangements, in-house childcare and supportive supervisory staff—will go far to assist women with families to maintain a healthy work¬−life balance.
Many women who enter non-traditional occupations leave them within the first couple of years because of a lack of support. Women Creating Change plans to implement a mentorship program for women in trades and technology that would help to keep women in good-paying jobs longer.
More information about the Women Creating Change project can be had by contacting the Trail Community Skills Centre, email@example.com, or 250-231-9142.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior