The Women’s Centre’s vision is a world where women are supporting communities and communities are supporting women.
We work toward that vision by providing a safe place for women to
Our approach is based on a two-year research project, titled Civil Society in the New Millennium, which gathered input from 10,000 people in 47 countries. The research, sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation, is reported in the book “Revising Democracy, Citizens in the Heart of Governance” by Barry Knight, Hope Chigudu and Rajesh Tandon (2002).
The research found that a good society is comprised of three components. The first component relates to the fulfillment of the Basic Needs of citizens (Get Assistance). The second component concerns Association with other people (Connect with Others). The third component is about Participation in the governance of society (Work for Change).
At the Women’s Centre all of our work is done within the unique framework of a Community Capacity Building Peer Model. The Peer Model is the glue that binds the three strategic areas: Get Assistance, Connect with Others, and Work for Change. It is in the integrations and overlaps of these areas where we do most of our work. Having integrated areas of services and support ensures accessibility, and creates opportunities for women to engage with the Women’s Centre in a variety of ways.
For more details on how this model applies at the Women’s Centre please read: All the Women are Weavers Peer-Model-Report-2010
In order to survive, people must have their basic needs met. When basic needs are met, all people have access to secure livelihoods, reasonable standards of living, and access to food, water, shelter, sanitation, health and education. The basic needs identified as most important to the people in the study by Knight, Chigudu and Tandon (2002) were economic security, social services, physical security and peace.
The Women’s Centre recognizes that meeting basic needs is the component of citizens’ healthy participation in society. The Women’s Centre assists women to meet their own and their family’s basic needs by providing emergency food, personal care items, basic needs referrals, access to technology and bus tickets. We also run weekly Legal Advice clinics and do safety planning with women experiencing abuse.
Connection is the human, emotional, need to be an accepted member of a group. People have an inherent desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. The needs identified as most important to the people in the study by Knight, Chigudu and Tandon (2002) were a sense of belonging, mutual help, respect for culture and heritage, sharing and caring.
The Women’s Centre recognizes that providing social inclusion needs helps maintain healthy citizens, families and communities in society. The Women’s Centre works within a Community Capacity Building Peer Model in all of our programs and activities. The Women’s Centre provides space and opportunities for women to associate and support each other and develop a sense of belonging and community. This is the foundation of our work.
All of our programs are free. Most have no criteria or intake and are available on a walk in basis without an appointment. We offer non-judgmental peer support, free workshops and groups on a wide range of topics, volunteer opportunities and a safe place for women to gather
The possibility of any individual to be involved in decision-making which affects her interests is the foundation of the right to participation. Everyone should be able to participate in society, to defend their interests and to help create a society.
Knight, Chigudu and Tandon (2002) identified the needs most important to people as equal rights and justice, inclusive and responsive government, and involvement in decision and policy making by public agencies.
The Women’s Centre not only works towards meeting the individual needs of women in Calgary, it also takes proactive steps to ensure women’s voices are present in the dialogue around various social, political and economic issues. We strive to give all women opportunities to get involved in social justice issues and have a voice in public policy. The Women’s Centre also works in networks and coalitions to address both service needs and women’s and diversity issues.
One of the strengths of our Peer Model is that it fosters the flexibility of women to give back in whatever ways they can, and starting from where they are at. The Peer Model welcomes and encourages diversity in culture, experiences and skills, and we work to build a reciprocal process. For example, services may be used or provided by women using the Women’s Centre, by volunteers and by staff members. All women can contribute differently and equitably to the Women’s Centre.
An integral component of our Peer Model is a Feminist Approach and Capabilities Approach. A Feminist Approach recognizes that all women are marginalized to varying degrees. The reality of gender inequality within Canada prevents some women, in particular women who are vulnerable, from enjoying a full life of well-being. The Women’s Centre also believes in the potential of every woman, and that women are strong, and capable. The Women’s Centre emphasizes the similarities in women’s lives and celebrates our differences. Many women face similar challenges at some point in their lives and the way we work allows them to support one another. The Peer Model operates under the assumption that all women may at one time need assistance, and at another time, or in another way, may provide assistance.
The Capabilities Approach builds on the assets and knowledge of the women who come to the Women’s Centre. It works from the starting place that women are experts in their own lives, thus they know what they need. The Peer Model is about providing an empathetic, non-judgmental ear and supporting women to define for themselves what services they might require. The relationships between staff, volunteers and women who use the Women’s Centre are based on these similarities and not on an “expert/client” approach. The Capabilities Approach aligns with the work at the Women’s Centre because it is asset focused, looking to the strengths of women and their potential capabilities, while at the same time attending to the reality that systemic structures and societal inequity render women vulnerable.
We work to decrease barriers for women who come to the Women’s Centre as we operate on a walk-in basis. We do not have an intake process and women do not need to make appointments. We do not ask for identification unless another agency referral requires it. We are open to every woman, regardless of her situation: any woman, any age, any question.
For more information about the Community Capacity Building Peer Model and the work of the Women’s Centre read: All the Women are Weavers: A Community Capacity Building Peer Model and Social Inclusion