"I'm finally there": An examination of a feminist program working to change the dynamics of women's poverty
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One in seven Canadian women lives in poverty. There is a considerable body of research on the factors that cause women’s poverty in Canada and on how poverty affects women’s lives. There are also a number of programs and organizations that help women living in poverty. However, there is a lack of research that examines the meanings and experiences women have with these programs and the role these programs may play in their lives. This study has attempted to fill this gap by examining an innovative training and employment program for women living in poverty. A qualitative approach was taken, which included in-depth, semi-structured interviews with eight women who had recently completed the program, as well as an informal interview with the program director. The interviews explored the women’s experiences with the program, the meanings they associated with the program, and the ways in which participation in the program had influenced their lives. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze the interview data, and socialist feminist theory provided a lens to guide the study as a whole. The analysis led to the development of a number of themes and sub-themes. Safety, stability and connections with others were found to be particularly meaningful and important components of the program. These features enabled the participants to discover a new sense of self through the development of skills, confidence and empowerment. These findings suggest the importance of providing a holistic program, and one that addresses the broad range of challenges and concerns that affect the lives of women in poverty. Programs that focus narrowly on employment and job training may be insufficient. The implications of this research are discussed in terms of the diverse needs of women living in poverty and the range of barriers that they face. Community programs such as the one studied can help women make significant gains in their lives, which can, in turn, contribute to overcoming poverty and achieving economic independence.