Social Movements as a Means to Empowerment:
Why Women Must Take Control of Their Own learning

by Joan Brown-Hicks and Lisa Avedon

Les auteures étudient certains des problèmes qui expliquent la situation économique difficile dans laquelle se trouvent les femmes. Le manque d'accès à des programmes adéquats de formation et d'éducation menant à un emploi est l'une des raisons principales.

Les auteures critiquent sévèrement les politiques gouvernementales relatives aux programmes de formation pour les femmes, ainsi que la tendance actuelle a la privatisation de ces programmes.

Elles décrivent les difficultés qu'ont les femmes dans les établissements ordinaires d'éducation et reprochent à ces établissements de ne pas pouvoir ou savoir s'adapter au style d'apprentissage des femmes. Les éducateurs présument que le processus d'apprentissage est le même chez les femmes et chez les hommes; l'éducation des adultes continue d'ignorer les différences dans les besoins des femmes et des hommes. Les femmes ont été défavorisées par les systèmes d'éducation et de formation, et elles continuent de l'être. La situation s'avère difficile à changer du fait que tant d' importance est attachée à l'éducation et à la formation des hommes.

In recent paper for the Canadian Association for Adult Education entitled "Building the Social Movement", Ron Faris states that "it is no coincidence that learning is an integral part of effective social movements, as learning is itself an important social process .,,1 The social movements he refers to are those concerned with peace, ecology, women, local economic development, literacy and culture. The membership of most of these movements, except perhaps for local economic development, is made up mainly of women and many of us are members of a number of these groups. These issues are survival issues and survival is a women's issue.

However, most of the concerns of these social movements are economic concerns. They are inextricably linked to our economic structures, to our tax structures and to our political priorities.

The philosophy of the present government, to let business and the marketplace operate freely; will not likely improve economic conditions for women. In fact, women must be concerned when the solutions to Canada's economic problems are seen as free trade, deregulation and privatization. Many of the activities of the women's movement have focused on correcting the deficiencies brought about by this type of system. We know that markets have an unfair impact on women because women lack training and promotion, opportunities occupy in lower paying job ghettoes, lack benefits, are forced into part-time employment and often lack adequate childcare.

Since the beginning of this decade, poverty in Canada has been on the rise. According to economist Monica Townson, more than 4.3 million Canadians - most of them women and children - lived below the poverty line in 1984. Poverty now affects one Canadian child in five; and almost half of all the single parent families headed by women are poor.2 The gap between rich and poor is widening.

This government's economic policies reflect its political priorities. Universal publicly- funded day care cannot be afforded but the federal government can lose five billion dollars through RRSP's and commit millions more to bailing out floundering banks!

What all this has to do with women's learning is very clear. Learning is the major access route for women to paying jobs. While learning enables one to live one's life to the fullest, if one is living below the poverty line and is responsible for the care of children, access to a well-paid job is a priority. If appropriately funded and available, learning is one avenue women use to gain economic independence.

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