Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 07, 2005

Project Aims to Help Rural Canadian Women Tackle Change

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 a University of Guelph anthropology professor.

Belinda Leach is heading a research team that has received a grant from the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for the Rural Women Making Change Research Alliance, it was announced today. “We are doing something that has never been done before,” said 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 L. Emerson, minister of industry and minister responsible for SSHRC, said “Professor Leach and her research team are embarking on research that will have a direct impact of 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 the country. “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 said.

Rural life in Canada continues to change, and women seem to be bearing the brunt of rural economic transformation, she said. 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. As well, 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,” Leach said. “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, foresty, 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 Victoria, the University of Western Ontario 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,” said 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,” he said.

The alliance will be run out of U of G’s Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being. The innovative interdisciplinary research and educational centre supports research by faculty, staff and graduate students related to individual and family well-being, work and family, and workplace productivity and community supports.

Prof. Belinda Leach, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 58941 or (519) 835-9240

Pam Hanington, Executive Director, Women Today of Huron
(519) 524-6767

Linda Smith, Chair, CAW Local 88 Women's Committee
(519) 842-2950

Colleen Ross, Women’s VP, National Executive Board Member, National Farmers Union
(613) 652-1552

Maggie MacDonald, Women’s Employment Resource Centre, Woodstock
(519) 421-2077

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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