It was a moving morning as well over 100 Coasters concerned about the economic well-being of women came together to brainstorm ideas for change.
The Make Progress workshop at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall on Jan. 16 started with a traditional blessing and theatrical portrayal of one woman’s thoughts about life on the Sunshine Coast.
The stage production showed a young mother struggling to make the rent, find a job and find care for her infant while relying on a less than stellar transit system to get around. Life got much brighter when the woman found a friend to help her.
The production drilled home the four main issues that came out of an on-line survey and community conversations conducted over the past few months by the Progress Plan group. Those issues are low wages, unreliable transit, not enough care for children and dependent adults and a lack of community belonging.
Attendees at Wednesday’s Make Progress Workshop got more detailed information about the four areas from project manager Michelle Morton.
“As we saw in the performance, for many, the employment picture is quite bleak here on the Sunshine Coast. Women describe to us low wages, rigid work hours that don’t accommodate their role as caregivers in the family, a shortage of hours and a lack of full-time jobs,” Morton said.
Some women on the Coast have opted for self-employment, which provides more flexibility; however, the move can be risky, often not providing a stable income. Another thing negatively impacting the ability to earn an income is the lack of affordable childcare on the Coast.
“Women’s earning capacity is directly impacted by a lack of care,” Morton said, noting many women can’t secure meaningful work on the Coast. “Government disability and assistance programs are the only option for many women, and what we heard about that is the rates are simply too low — far too low to meet basic needs such as shelter and food — and women are needing the food bank to meet basic needs and survive.”
She shared that transportation was a major issue for many women on the Coast who said a car is “essential” to get around.
“But they expressed a strong desire for other options and lower cost. For instance, women would take the bus more if it was more frequent and closer to home. Women would bike and walk — they see the health and other benefits of doing so — and they’d do it if they felt safe doing so. The Sunshine Coast highway is seen as a treacherous obstacle to navigate,” Morton said.
She said the issue of belonging is all encompassing and ties together all the items raised.
“The important informal connections really do help women fill their basic needs,” she said.
Once an overview of the issues was given, groups were asked to start brainstorming ideas for change.
“Our challenge here today: let’s consider these priorities areas — income, care, transportation and belonging. Think about what actions we can take as a community to improve the economic well-being of women on the Sunshine Coast. It’s going to be a fun process,” she said.
Groups spent the next two hours coming up with ideas that will be worked into the plan, set to be published by the end of next month.
The plan will contain action items and pilot projects that can be put in place with some of the funding awarded to the project through Status of Women Canada.
Watch a taping of the Make Progress workshop on Coast TV debuting Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. on channel 11. After the debut the program will run each day at 9 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 8 p.m. and midnight until the end of the week.
Find out more about the Progress Plan at www.progressplan.ca.