Low Income Women's Group Goes UnderTuesday, December 11 2007
WISE began in 2003 as one woman's vision, to make a difference in the lives of low-income women like herself. Over the next four years, WISE gathered homeless and other women in poverty into its fold and grew into a national movement. In 2006, with the aid of the second of two grants received from Status of Women Canada (SWC), local WISE groups began to form in BC communities and the seeds of others began sprinkling nation-wide.
Striving to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others, often at considerable personal risk, WISE women gained national and international recognition and respect.
We raised our voices. We said things and presented findings which academics, bureaucrats, and poverty activists had not known; ignored as irrelevant, such as our lived experience; or derided due to the unfounded belief that we lacked expertise when it came to poverty issues. The contributions of WISE women pushed others within and outside the poverty movement to re-examine their assumptions about: women who live in society's fringes; solutions to poverty and poverty-related issues, such as housing; and the real needs of many low-income women. The priority of needs is not, from our perspective, what most of the purported experts have taken as obvious.
Staying in touch with one another has been difficult for WISE women. This is not least due to many of us not having phones or the means to connect via the Internet, and because of the precariousness of living on a very low income which makes the stability of our housing, well, unstable.
These problems can be offset if organized groups of marginalized women - and men - receive funding support to do the work that they identify as crucial. This is what Status of Women Canada did for WISE. With two grants, the only grants we received during the four years of our existence, SWC helped us exceed our wildest expectations and push boundaries hitherto unassailable.
One unexpected outcome of our first project was the highly acclaimed book "Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the Front," published by WISE in 2005. The book has been purchased widely in Canada by public and university libraries; academics; health professionals and local and regional health authorities; service providers; politicians and political parties; government departments, agencies and public institutions; women's resource centres; and has been made available to other low-income women. Additional orders have come from Australia, Japan, the UK, and the USA. With our second SWC grant, we expanded on a key recommendation from our book: to reach out to other low-income women. That project also far exceeded expectations.
Now there's a question as to whether WISE can survive beyond this month, when our second SWC grant expires.
Thanks to changes to SWC made in the Fall of 2006 by the Harper government, WISE and all other unincorporated women's groups - almost exclusively run by marginalized women - are no longer eligible for SWC grants.
For WISE, this means we must immediately change the way we do things.
Our ability to maintain our website, electronic communications, and to retain our key organizers will depend on the continued sales of our book, associate membership fees, donations under the WISE Friends Program and, crucially, contracts with other organizations to share our expert knowledge.
In other words, we are hoping that the women who have been most active with WISE can continue their activities, but on a consultancy basis. They will provide leadership, training, and peer support for other low-income women who want to make a difference in their communities; and will share their expert knowledge with health and social service professionals, and with anyone else who wants to learn from low-income women about poverty and its solutions.
In essence, WISE is transitioning into a coalition of PAID independent poverty consultants, all of whom will be low-income women. We can no longer offer our services for free.
Non-profit organizations that want to include WISE events in their communities will have to obtain the funding themselves, to pay our professional fees and expenses. Since WISE offers a service that has been proven to change women's lives, finding non-profits that want to hire WISE consultants or facilitators isn't the issue; it's whether any organizations can offer us work in time, before WISE must fold due to lack of money. The funding cycle is not in our favour. However, we're hopeful that, in addition to non-profits, some public institutions and for-profit or professional organizations will seek our expertise.
WISE, as it has existed over the past four years is, therefore, shutting down effective December 15, 2007. We have cancelled our phone service to reduce expenses and will cancel our post office box if we do not receive sufficient funds before its renewal comes due January 30th.
Will we survive? That has a lot to do with timing, but we are forever hopeful. Our history has proven us capable of pushing the boundaries of what low-income women have been expected to achieve.
RELATED: Presentation by Chrystal Ocean to the Hon. Bev Oda, former Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women.http://www.wise-bc.org/PDF/WISE_to_BevOda_Mar0307.pdf