This post was written by Carole Carpot-Lacassagne, Women’s Centre Basic Needs Coordinator.
March is National Social Work Month, which is an opportunity for me to reflect on the profession I chose, or as I like to say, the profession that chose me! In the collective mind, social workers are the ultimate helping profession. The Canadian Association of Social Workers describes social workers as professionals dedicated to “helping individuals, families and groups,” but that’s not all social workers do. Social work is embedded in a social, political and economic context, which means we focus both on specific and broader societal issues.
At the Women’s Centre, many staff members, volunteers, and practicum students are social workers. There are many reasons for this, and the definition above describes the work we do together every day as a community. For example, did you know the social work code of ethics highlighted the following as core values?
- Respect for inherent dignity
- Pursuit of social justice
- Service to humanity
- Integrity and confidentiality as foundational values.
Each time I read those core values, the Women’s Centre Peer Model and our three promising practices, which revolve around very similar principles, come to mind.
I have recently re-joined our Basic Needs staff team at the Women’s Centre, where we provide immediate support to women who come through the doors, call or email us. In the years I have been volunteering or working at the Centre I have witnessed us getting busier and busier, and busier! Over the past 5 years, the Women’s Centre went from 58,632 contacts in 2012 (contacts are services provided at the Women’s Centre) to 100,281 contacts in 2017. During 2017 alone the Women’s Centre made over 3800 referrals to the food bank. We are working hard to help women meet their basic needs, but seeing the great need of our community for support and services can sometimes feel overwhelming.
So what can I/ we do?
First, I think acknowledgement is key. I recognize that I have power, I have privilege, I am part of the system I am trying to shift. More specifically, it is important to acknowledge that women are still marginalized on the basis of their gender, and experience poverty in unique ways because of this.
With acknowledgment comes questions. How do I avoid perpetuating power imbalances? How do I support others with empathy? How can I make room for reciprocity and highlight women’s capabilities in the face of complex issues like food insecurity or poverty? When I say “I understand,” to women in our community, what does this mean? How much do I really understand about what is going on in the mind of a woman who has no place to stay for the night, or a mother who is unable to feed her children for the day? These are difficult questions with no easy answers.
So how can I/ we make sense of it all and move forward? I think it’s crucial to check our biases, reflect and be aware! Awareness that maybe really I don’t know. I may not know but I genuinely care; and that’s something special about the Women’s Centre. The Women’s Centre is a place where women and girls feel like they belong. And this is at the heart of the work we do. We provide women and girls, who sometimes feel marginalized, with an opportunity to overcome their personal hardships. We are a place where women’s stories are heard and valued, we know that oppression is not only individual but also collective.
At the Women’s Centre there is understanding, and there is also action.
Women can come to the Women’s Centre to meet their basic needs, participate in our programs, or add their voice to conversations around important social issues. At the core of all of our work are the shared values of working for equity, justice and dignity, and this is reflected in the space we create – in 2017, 97% of women surveyed reported they feel safe at the Women’s Centre.
So I guess by now you are thinking that being a social worker can mean having tons of question without having all the answers. You are probably right. Yes we relentlessly ask hard questions, and through one question at a time we push boundaries, we expand minds and we make social change happen for all women and girls in our city. I see social workers as amplifiers of voices; which is both extremely valuable and humbling.
This month you can honour this amazing profession by learning more about social workers, the work we do, and what drives us all to make a difference every day.