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How Many Faces of Poverty?

I spent two days last week at a conference at the University of Winnipeg called “Two Faces of Poverty: Making the Law Work for Indigenous Peoples and Women”. The conference was based on a report called “Making the Law Work for Everyone” –described as a “framework for legal empowerment focusing on indigenous peoples, women and vulnerable groups, with four mutually reinforcing pillars: access to justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights and business rights.”

As always at these events, the conversations in the halls and the connections I made with allies were the high points of the conference.

But I want to highlight one workshop called “The Inner City and I” — a session about a local community in Winnipeg, where A… got up and talked about her life — how she had ended up on welfare and how she was treated by people once they knew she was on social assistance. In a powerful and moving narrative, she spoke of how it had affected her and her family.

Her story precipitated another woman to speak. L… said that she was no longer on welfare, that she hadn’t been for ten years, but that A…’s story had brought back the anger she didn’t know was still in her when she thought about struggling to live while she was on welfare and having to cope with the daily poor bashing that people (even friends) often unthinkingly engage in.

Both women were in tears at some points as they told their stories. Around them in the audience, perched on couches and sitting on the floor, were high school students, there for the conference, who had probably come to hear stories about poverty in “far off places”. But they too were moved and silent as they listened. We all listened.

Someone recently in Vancouver in response to the municipal government’s “civil city” initiative, said that they didn’t want a civil city, they wanted a just city. It may be time to redefine our terminology; I, for one, am not inclined to be civil these days.


  1. Alice wrote:

    Hi Penny:

    Thank you for the above story and rundown of your conference you attended. Recently I was dealing with a very distraught mom and for the life of me I couldnt figure out what was wrong at first. Then finally she was able to explain what had just happened to her. Some of her closest and dearest friends have begun to shun her because she has had to go on the system. I to was once on the system, and it did bring back for me some horrible things that I wont say I had forgotten but I had definitely put away or at least I thought I had.
    I was so devastated for this poor mom as her kids were looking at her and they were so sad because mom was sad. It is heart wrenching when we see, hear and watch others treat our most vulnerable. Now I know why I do what I do even though there is no money in it.
    Thank you very much for the reminder and that I can do more and will do more, for those who need us advocates and need the extra support.

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Diane wrote:

    I, too, recall being on income assistance while I was a lone parent raising my two little kids. I used to cringe at the grocery store when I cashed my cheque (they let you do things like that in those days). I always felt, perhaps wrongly, that the clerk and everyone in line was judging me. It felt awful.

    Now I have no problem relating that I was on IA when the kids were young, because I figure if we keep it a secret, the stigma will never be gone. And how civil would that be?…db

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  3. Lynda Strut wrote:

    After an episode of bi-polar disorder in 2003, I got treatment, stay in a group home, an apartment, and qualified for AchieveBC scholarship for Office Fundamentals course that landed me a job. About 30 years ago, I was on welfare for a year after I walked away from an abusive marriage, losing 30 pounds in a week, hospitalized and gradually rehabilitated. Because assistance was for so short a time, I don’t recall disrespect, just the usual struggle to overcome job gaps, lose of partner and sense of direction and stigma of mental illness. Now I can support my consumer peers and keep sane–I know my purpose, live a balanced life with spiritual and other mentors. I am blessed! Hard-won life lessons are not easily forgotten.

    Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

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