This post was written by Sarah Winstanley, our Girl Programs Coordinator.
I have this vivid memory of being 10 years old and sitting in a chair outside of an office at city hall, waiting for my mom. I knew she was talking to someone important but I wasn’t sure why or what about. At the time, I was more worried about the donut and hot chocolate she had promised me after the meeting.
I later learned that she was working on a project to get a group built home for folks experiencing brain injuries. That meeting was with a city councillor about the resistance and NIMBY-ism* she was experiencing among members of his ward community. She was advocating on behalf of the people she worked with as a social worker in order to make the community a more supportive place for them. After watching my mother engage in this kind of work for many years (and after a brief but intense teenage affair with punk music), it was clear to me that there were problems in the world that needed fixing, which is why I became a social worker.
The Canadian Association of Social Workers defines social work as “a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. Social work is concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment and domestic violence.”
I am telling you all of this because March 5-11 is National Social Work Week! Did you know, the Women’s Centre has three social workers on staff? And that we often have up to three social work students from Mount Royal and the University of Calgary doing practicums with us each semester? This is our chance to recognize them and all the social workers in our communities! Thank you for the work you do.
I can’t continue without recognizing that social work has, at times, been used as a tool to further oppress some marginalized groups, such as Indigenous communities. For example, the Sixties Scoop, in which thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in foster care, continues to have a devastating impact on Indigenous communities across Canada. However, at the Women’s Centre, we imagine social work as striving to create social justice by actively challenging oppression on multiple levels and working towards a world where resources are more equitably distributed. We envision a world where women support communities, and communities support women. By using our unique peer model, we work towards this vision by engaging in policy work that aims to shape better supports for women and their families, supporting the activism of girls and women, creating spaces where discussions about social issues can take place, and by delivering our basic needs programming with choice and dignity in mind.
As a social worker, I love working at the Women’s Centre because not only do I get to engage with people on an individual level, hearing their stories and supporting their resistance to the structures that oppress them, but I am also connected to and involved in work that tries to make change on a structural level. For example, the teenage girls I work with in our Girl Up program are invited to identify and critique the issues they experience that create negative consequences in their lives, and then supported to develop a response that aims at root causes. As someone who values equity, justice and resistance, the Women’s Centre’s approach fits with my personal values, and I feel lucky to work here as a social worker and a member of the community.
Get in on the Social Work Week fun using the hashtag #SWweek2017 on Twitter!
*NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) – opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development because it is close to them