SSHRC funds research alliance intended to enrich lives of women in rural communities
BY LORI BONA HUNT
Empowering women in rural Canada to influence public policy, manage their unique challenges and create change is the focus of a $1-million national research project headed by Prof. Belinda Leach, Sociology and Anthropology. She is leading a team that has received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for the Rural Women Making Change Research Alliance.
“We are doing something that has never been done before,” says Leach, who holds the University Research Chair in Rural Gender Studies. “We are bringing together a team of community and academic experts from across the country to specifically look at the work and life issues that are affecting and challenging women in rural Canada.”
David Emerson, minister of industry and minister responsible for SSHRC, says Leach and her team “are embarking on research that will have a direct impact on the lives of rural women and the communities they live and work in. Indeed, the benefits of knowledge generated through research extend to all areas of Canadians' lives.”
A blend of advocacy, research and knowledge dissemination, the alliance will involve professors, leading feminist scholars, national unions, volunteers and advocates and community organizations across Canada.
“We hope to change the context of rural living in such a way that it supports women living, working and staying in these regions, thereby improving their lives and enriching these communities,” Leach says.
Rural life in Canada continues to change, and women seem to be bearing the brunt of rural economic transformation, she says. Women are simultaneously dealing with disappearing social services, declining farm incomes and fewer employment and schooling options. Many hold down full-time jobs both on and off the farm while continuing to be the primary caregivers of children and elderly relatives.
In addition, in some rural communities, services once offered by various levels of government are now provided by women through local resource centres on a volunteer basis.
“Yet the absence of gender analysis of the changes taking place in rural Canada is quite striking,” says Leach. “We wanted to do something about that. We hope to engage women more directly in what's happening to them and to their communities, and to recognize their capacity to create change in a meaningful way.”
The alliance will identify challenges specific to rural women and examine better approaches to meeting needs. It also aims to help empower them to influence public policy at all levels of government. Researchers plan to work with women working in local resource centres and in the auto-manufacturing, forestry, mining, food-processing, service and agricultural industries, including migrant workers.
The alliance is the outcome of more than three years of national partnership building and includes representatives from the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the National Farmers Union, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Women's Employment Resource Centre and Women Today of Huron, as well as academics from U of G, the University of Western Ontario, University of Victoria and York University.
SSHRC is providing the funding over five years under its Community-University Research Alliances program with rural women, policy-makers, researchers and community agencies.
“Women play an essential role in the vitality and survival of Canada's rural communities, yet they also bear the brunt of these regions' economic realities,” says SSHRC president Marc Renaud. “This research investment will build sustainable alliances among federal and provincial ministries, businesses, municipal government and the organizations dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and their families.”
The alliance will be run out of the University's Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being.
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