A woman took a self-defense course and didn't say a word throughout the session. She returned to take the course again, and during one class told the following story. She had been in an abusive relationship with her husband for the past twenty years. She finally decided to take self-defense, but didn't tell her husband. One night, as she was preparing to leave for class, he asked her where she was going. She said, "None of your business." He never hurt her since.

A grade eight teacher was keeping his female students after class, one at a time, asking them personal questions. After several months, the young women realized he was doing it to all of them. They went together, twenty 14-year-old women, to confront the teacher. They told him they wanted him to stop harassing them. He stopped.

The BRIDGES program includes a variety of approaches to engage the learner. We have developed a Learning Style Inventory through which a participant identifies her own style and learning strengths and finds out how to use that information to choose and adapt to different learning situations. We introduce her to "superlearning" techniques which, through holistic strategies and creativity, help dissolve fear, self-blame, cramped self-images, and negative suggestions about limited abilities.

Carol Gilligan and Mary Belenky have documented the silencing of women, and their need to speak in their own voices (1). Refraining negative self-concepts and perceptions of personal weakness in positive terms of strength and survival is a powerful way for a woman to find her voice. An example of reframing is the "Talking Paper," in which each participant writes about and presents herself in terms of what she is, rather that what she is not - in terms of her values, strengths, skills, and desires.

Experiential learning is fundamental to BRIDGES both in the classroom and in the work experience. Theory is always accompanied by demonstration and opportunities to practice a new skill in a non-competitive, supportive environment. Through discussion and constructive feedback, each woman can assess her own ability. In the work placement, each participant defines what she wants to learn and evaluates the experience in terms of her goals. It is these personal experiences of success that make BRIDGES a place where a woman makes meaningful changes in the direction of her life.

  1. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982; and Mary Belenky et al., Women's Ways of Knowing, New York: Basic Books, 1986.

A recent follow-up study on woman who have graduated from BRIDGES in the years 1988 to 1991 shows dramatic shifts in self- perception and ability to capably function in the world. Of the 74 graduates interviewed, 51 went on to take some form of further training and education, 60 have participated in the workforce since graduation, and 50 are currently working in either a full or part-time capacity .

BRIDGES is currently funded by Health and Welfare Canada through a demonstration grant. Under this funding agreement, we will be putting together a program manual so that other Canadian communities can use this model as a strategy for change in the lives of women with a history of abuse.

Joan Krisch is Administrator and Arlene Wells is Program Coordinator with BRIDGES in Victoria, B.C. For more information, contact Bridges Employment Training Project, Box 5732, Station B, Victoria, B.C., V8R 6S8, (604) 385-7410, Fax (604) 385-7459.

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