The final community plan to help improve the economic well-being of women on the Coast will come out in early 2015, complete with recommendations to government and local organizations on how to help women and, in turn, their communities, to prosper.
The Progress Plan initiative (funded by Status of Women Canada and run through the Community Resource Centre) has been gathering information from the community since 2012, when the first survey of 200 women showed transportation, income, care for children and the elderly and belonging as the top issues impacting women’s economic well-being locally. The same issues came up in several focus groups and workshops with community members between 2012 and 2013. Ultimately, action groups were set up to brainstorm ideas for change and start important conversations in the community.
The Progress Plan once again put out a survey in 2014, to which 360 women responded, that confirmed the four priority areas hadn’t changed.
Now the Progress Plan is working on the final phase of the project, compiling all the information gathered and coming up with recommendations.
“The focus is on how do we empower ourselves to make a difference instead of complaining about the stuff that frustrates us,” said project manager Michelle Morton.
Things that would help at the local government level could be as simple as offering incentives to women who want to set up in-home daycares, Morton said, which could help alleviate the common issue of hard-to-find childcare on the Coast.
Some change can also happen at the grass-roots level, such as the Self Employed Women’s Network (SEWN) that’s already been set up as a result of the income action group.
“Income, of course, is a key concern for women. Many people will talk about the lack of local jobs and the fact that employers don’t often pay a very good wage. So women are struggling to find the jobs they need that provide adequate income. Many women are turning to self-employment,” Morton said. “Small businesses are the main employers on the Sunshine Coast and women are playing a very big role in that. One thing we found is that when self-employed women are all working in isolation, their businesses don’t do as well.”
Enter SEWN. The network led by volunteers has already had two events that brought self-employed women from across the Coast together for networking and info-sharing.
“Women want to connect with each other, to provide support to one another and receive help,” Morton said.
Much of the work the Progress Plan has done to date has been about connecting people and encouraging dialogue, which has led to some wins for women on the Coast, such as the 60 new childcare spaces coming in 2015 and 2016 thanks to a partnership between the school district and the YMCA of Greater Vancouver.
“When you take a community development approach, you can’t say ‘the Progress Plan made this happen,’ but you can say ‘the Progress Plan encouraged communication and collaborations that may not have happened otherwise,’” Morton said.
She hopes the dialogue that has taken place during the initiative won’t end when the final phase of the plan is complete because that dialogue ultimately leads to action.
“We want to raise awareness and foster partnerships to help make a difference,” she said.