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Feminist Success Stories - Célébrons nos réussites féministes

Karen A. Blackford
Marie-Luce Garceau
Sandra Kirby

Part V: Caring — Partie V : Question de soins et de services


Question de soins et de services

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1Feminist researchers Baukje Miedema and Nancy Clark describe the lives of working-class women who choose to mother other people’s children. This paper leads to an interesting examination of the family, with an exploration of mothering, childhood, and family relations. The New Brunswick foster mothers interviewed in this article must often use their own funds to meet the needs of the children in their care since state support is insufficient. Child care, including the nurturing done by these women, has little status in society. While these social relations oppress foster mothers and the children they care for, the authors report that foster mothers resist the negative definitions of others. Instead, they recognize the difference they make in children’s lives as important. They also value the expertise they gain in caring for children whom they come to know well. Miedema and Clark recommend that children, and, indirectly, the state, would benefit if foster mothers were consulted about children’s follow-up care, and were provided with adequate funds to provide child care.

2Karen Blackford also invites us to examine family life though her specific focus on parenting with a disability. She argues that a caregiving role for women or for anyone can be empowering. What is oppressive is the assumption that caring must be unidirectional rather than reciprocal, and that only women must be caregivers. Based on interviews with parents who have multiple sclerosis and with their children, Blackford cites the strong beliefs we hold about gender, age, bodily condition, and what a family should be like, as barriers to women’s empowerment and to positive caring relationships. She reports that the onset of chronic illness can, ironically, serve as a catalyst for empowerment of all family members. This is especially true when disability onset triggers a reassessment of family beliefs and a reorganization of family responsibilities.

3Poor, proud, and sometimes desperate residents in low-income communities have few and poorly organized networks, little sense of their own power, high rates of unemployment, and low rates of formal education. These are the observations of researcher Marge Reitsma-Street and community activist Pat Rogerson. They found that sole-support mothers and their children — Native, francophone, and visible minority Canadians-living in two northern Ontario neighbourhoods were further oppressed when government and charitable organizations introduced top-down hierarchical redevelopment structures. Agencies with no longterm stake in the community and little understanding of the perspectives of residents don’t work and don’t feel good. These authors describe community residents who vigorously responded when respectfully invited to participate in research. They took part in training, planning, interviewing neighbours, critiquing findings, and creating neighbourhood services. Empowerment for women, for their children, and for these neighbourhoods in general has been the outcome of the program called Better Beginnings Better Futures.

4Heather Garrett points out the restrictions faced by women at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Families were sites to which middle class women were restricted, and in which poor women were oppressed by fatigue and inadequate resources for themselves and their children. The economy and the state were also pivotal in maintaining the poverty experienced by underclass women and in restricting women’s political participation. A social historian venturing for the first time into an application of feminist analysis, Garrett introduces what she learned from archival sources about the Needlewomen’s Guild. This is a Canadian charitable women’s group which originated in England. Members, primarily from the middle class, provided hand-made clothing for children who needed clothing. These maternal feminists did not work for political power, nor did they seek to change the class system. However, their enterprise can be seen as a necessary precursor to future change. According to Garrett, this group participation empowered women by offering them a reason to gather outside their homes, to learn new skills, and to experience the satisfaction of having a positive effect on lives beyond those of their family members.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 1999

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