As a community-driven resource centre, the Women’s Centre provides an inclusive and safe space for women to access support, connections and community. The Centre’s peer model recognizes women as experts in their own lives and supports them in making change for themselves, their families and communities. In a world that is divided as much as it is unified, how can we create and maintain an inclusive space? What does an inclusive space mean for women that are a part of the Centre?
Inclusion lies in the difference between feelings of belonging and the pressure for people to “fit in” to groups, communities or cultures (for innovative ways to lead discussions on this topic, visit www.socialjusticetoolbox.com). From my personal experience as a Women’s Centre volunteer, student, and program participant, I have never felt pressure to “fit in” to any client profile, meet certain criteria or change my personal identity to be a valued member of this community. “Fitting in” requires work on the part of the individual to change in order to conform to power dynamics and privileged norms. Belonging involves explicit efforts on the part of the community to create opportunities for differences to be present and valued. There are many wonderful ways the Women’s Centre makes these explicit efforts to foster inclusion.
The trust-based relationships are the foundation of much of the Centre’s programs and emphasize equality, dignity and accessibility in seeking support. Trust-based relationships recognize women as experts in their own lives and inspires community members, staff and volunteers to work together collaboratively. In this way, women can access a support, be an active volunteer and attend workshops, making their own unique contributions.
Through these plentiful and diverse opportunities, I see how women connect with one another by embracing all forms of difference, understanding the importance of meeting each other where we’re at, and encouraging equal opportunities. I value an inclusive space in which there are opportunities to belong to a community without having to “fit in” or hide differences, but rather embrace and learn from them. This creates inclusive opportunities for diverse women to support one another and connect in unique and powerful ways.
Written by Monique, Women’s Centre Practicum Student