Women Volunteers and advocay

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Pride for Red D...
Women Volunteers and advocay


Pride for Red D...

I agree with Ms Mcgowen as to there being a problem with the profile of people who she described as doing volunteer work -myself being a case in point as I will be volunteering starting next Sunday at a shelter downtown, and then come home to the suburb's ( I am single though and out of school). Having women in an organization who have has similar experiences to those they are helping is important, and volunteer work isn't an employment agency. If I understand the article correctly, she's saying that our social structure that creates poverty ( i.e. the simple need to pay the bills, etc) inhibits some women from volunteering.
But what I don't understand is how volunteering, doing front line work not be recognizing women's worth ? When you volunteer to help people in bad straits, doesn't that mean you recognize their worth that society doesn't give them ? It may not empower all women immediately like changing a law does (i.e more access to abortion)- but I do think that by helping a women with whatever resources she needs to access (another issue of course I know)it kicks another small dent in the door of the socially built barriers and inequalities women face.
As to the wane in advocacy, doesn't it seem that there's a wane in the feminist movement in general compared to the past, or is it the visibility of activity? [url=http://www.rabble.ca/politics.shtml?x=53346]Rebick[/url] article seems to point to this with regards to the Status of Women there's isn't much of a kerfuffle going on that I can see, event the website that she point to hasn't been updated in a while.
[url=http://www.statusreport.ca/]Status Report[/url]

[ 13 January 2008: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]

rural - Francesca rural - Francesca's picture

The cuts were front page here.

One of the last projects funded by the Status of Women was our [url=http://www.wthuron.ca/pdfs/FinalReport.pdf]Rural Women's Poverty Project[/url].

Pride for Red D...

It was in the news here too, but I haven't seen anything about it in a while, and the changes made are still in force.


I now that on the news some time ago Harper cut womens programs, What programs did he cut and how much money did he withdraw?

remind remind's picture

margrace, there was a 10 million dollar cut to the Status of Women, this means that programs and services they offered have been cut. He apparently gave 5 million back, though I have yet to see re-entstatement of the programs the Status of Wwomen had to cut.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Link to rabble article that Pride for Red Dolores is referring to:
[url=http://www.rabble.ca/in_her_own_words.shtml?x=66291]rabble.ca In Her Own Words[/url]

From the article:


Whatever happened to a woman’s experience? What happened to feminist anti-poverty activism? There is a big difference between the intent of inclusion for all women and the reality of supplementing paid work with volunteer labour. Do women have to volunteer and intern at women-serving agencies and organizations before they can be considered for employment? Are women’s agencies now mainstream educational institutions, rather than powerful voices speaking out against oppression, violence and poverty?

Carol makes many excellent points. For anyone who's worked in a women's organization (I've worked in two: one for 8 years and one for 2 years), particularly ones that were founded in the 1970s and have become "institutionalized", you will know what she means.

What started out as grassroots movements, involving women who are impacted by the mandate of the organization directly, have now been shunted to the side, or seen only as "service users", not as active agents.

There's a very long history to explain why, which I don't think I can effectively summarize here, but in a nutshell, what began as political, grassroots, volunteer and unpaid advocacy work for change, evolved into having paid staff, greater professionalism and credentialism (I can see both sides of this one, particularly for crisis and counselling work), and regular funders, either private or more likely in the case of Canada, government. Having funders makes organizations obligated to run programs and mandates according to the funders' specifications, and since the 90s when NAC had a huge setback, no government funder that I know of provided monies for advocacy any longer. It still got done, and gets done, but in organizations in which burn-out and being under-staffed and under-resourced are huge daily issues, it takes less of the spotlight that it used to.

The further women's organizations get from the women they actually serve, the more institutional they become and the less politically effective they become, evolving into what we see a lot of now in the anti-violence against women (VAW) field, which is service provision and little to no advocacy, no concerted action pushing for greater social change.

The relationship to volunteers, and who gets to volunteer, is covered well in Carol's piece.

There's an excellent book called "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded" by the INCITE! Collective, a group of radical women of colour, based mostly in the US, about this very issue. It's amazing and I've gotten about halfway through it. I highly recommend it for anyone in the field. They have some incredible ideas and real-life examples of ridding organizations of the burden of answering to funders, and returning to the more radical roots of political action, as well as providing different services, all in an inclusive framework in which marginalized women are involved at every level.


Is it my imagination or does Mr. Harper's government believe that the little women should be in the kitchen and keep her mouth shut.

We have programs for the poor and sick, our volunteers tend to be, in the instance of the food bank, about one third men. But in the Palliative care we have at present only one man.

Mr. Clement got quite angry at me when I suggested that before he made his statements he should check out what we as an organization in Palliative Care already have in place. This is a strong women's organization and Palliative Care saves these people a lot of money.

Pride for Red D...

who is Mr Clement ?


I believe that would be Tony Clement, the federal Minister of Health, and former minister of Health during the Harris regime in Ontario.


Sorry yes I meant the federal minister of Clements. But I must say I have found him accessable.

Pride for Red D...

OH MY GOSH ! I just called the day shelter I was going to volunteer at to tell them that I was going to be a little late tomorrow morning because of the train scheduel. She in turn then told me that they didn;t need my help any longer, because they had a girl with a stage coming in on the weekends, and for these things they get money. While I apperciate the importance of a stage and cash for this shelter, I thinbk I see the article a little beter now.

Wht is this thgat I can't seem to find volunteer work in a feminist organization !

[ 19 January 2008: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]

Maysie Maysie's picture

PFRD, it's very sucky and unprofessional, the way you were told they didn't need your volunteer services any longer. I'm sorry that happened.


Originally posted by Pride for Red Dolores:
Wht is this thgat I can't seem to find volunteer work in a feminist organization !

The thing with volunteering is that volunteers play different roles depending on what organization you're talking about.

Of course it's great to volunteer, but as someone who both volunteers and has worked at feminist and non-profit organizations, it's a balancing act between what I as the volunteer want to do, and what the organization needs me to do.

Some places like the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre (where I've never worked, volunteered or been formally associated with, but I know many women who work and volunteer there) depend on volunteers: they are the ones who staff the crisis line, which is an incredible feat in itself, given that it's 24/7/365.

Other places need volunteers in very specific roles that are skill-based, such as tutors, computer help, etc.

Many organizations need a strong volunteer infrastructure in order to best make use of volunteers. Volunteers are also not being altruistic, nor should they, but they do want to get something out of the experience. When organizations don't have a dedicated volunteer coordinator, or someone for whom volunteer coordinating is a part of their job description, you get bad communication, not a good or active pool of volunteers, etc.

Returning to the point of Carole's article, though, is that women who could benefit from both the experience of volunteering and their own contribution to the role, are being slotted in as "service users" only, as if they have nothing to contribute back, or that the circumstances are such that there are too many barriers for them to volunteer (no child care, providing bus tickets, transit accessibility, etc.)

There's also a whole discussion we could have on the funding of organizations and why aren't they simply funded adequately so that volunteer (aka "free") labour wasn't a necessity. Everyone could then be paid, get benefits, join the union.

Deb O

Greetings everyone,
This is the first time I have participated in this process so I hope I manage to do it properly.

I was very interested in Carole McGowan's article about low income women volunteering in anti poverty and womens' groups and the problems she has noticed.

My own experience makes me the poster girl for workfare, having started off managing our Unemployed Help Centre while I was on an Ontario welfare program called Mothers Allowance, being paid very small wages and volunteering most of my time because it was an important agency that needed to succeed. After 5 years of this, during which time we used additional funding to pay a staffer while I stayed on welfare and took my part time wage, we eventually got funding from Legal Aid Ontario to operate a legal clinic, doing poverty law for low income folks in our County.

Then we were able to start doing legal casework, sticking band aids on people one at a time instead of doing systemic advocacy, which remains my passion.

By then I had the skills and experience to be hired by the Legal Centre and I am still there 15 years later. The original Help Centre still struggles with funding and still tries very hard to help low income people in many practical ways, providing services available nowhere else.

I too have observed many changes in how places like this work, and it makes me very unhappy when I see middle class volunteers in the office. They may be do-gooders, "hearts in the right place" etc. but they don't belong in grass roots organizations where real anti poverty work and organizing happens - or should be happening.

They just don't get it, and they don't relate well to the low income service users who much prefer dealing with people like themselves - people who don't embarrass them, people who can understand their troubles and commiserate with them. People they can share a joke with...

In our community many people prefer to talk to me rather than the lawyers, for the simple reason that they know where I came from and they know I will not judge them or try to fix them. Some women tell me I am their role model because I have proven it is possible to claw your way out of poverty and into a fulfilling job with a decent income. I have learned that living in poverty year after year, trying to raise happy kids on next to nothing, is an experience so gut wrenching that you never forget it, and you never forget the lessons learned. I still have a hard time spending money and I still want to fill my kitchen cupboards full, out of insecurity that it might not be there tomorrow so I'd better stock up while I can. I don't think that feeling will ever leave me.

But this type of work has changed over the years, Carole is right about that. For a time it looked like low income women were making progress and achieving important results, but now they have been shoved out of the way by university educated middle class women who are paid high wages to work on poverty issues. Now that there is funding available, even if it's limited, for this work, it's all being taken by people who have never gone without anything and at a gut level, just do not understand. They never will, and they should be ashamed for taking those jobs from the real experts in poverty: low income people.

I used to know lots of other low income women who were extremely effective and making real progress on poverty issues, but they are all gone now, having finally given up in the face of the influx of the educated "professionals" who really can't be bothered with low income people who sometimes aren't all that polite.

It's a real shame and I wish we could find a way to put the poverty experts, the poor, in charge of fighting poverty. They know better than anyone what needs to be done. And it's not more social programs with more professionals, and it sure as heck isn't charity.

Carole, thanks for writing your piece, it makes such important points that people need to understand. I'm with you all the way.