Women’s Resource Centres are Antidotes to the Complex Issues Faced by Rural Women

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International Rural Women’s Day takes place on the 15th of October. This day recognizes the role of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. 43% of Nova Scotians live in rural areas and the Women’s Centres work to support women in these communities. Living in rural and remote areas often has challenges related to transportation, access to services and logistics. Life is often, additionally challenging for rural women given their greater responsibility in the agricultural labour force, informal work, and of course, the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, but also because opportunities of support for well-being, safety and employment are even more difficult to obtain.

Isolation Increases The Risk of Violence For Rural Women

Police-reported intimate partner violence (IPV) is 75 percent higher among rural women when compared to urban women. Rural communities face specific barriers to eliminating gender-based violence including:

  • A lack of privacy in tight-knit communities: Survivors may fear disrupting the community and or facing “well known” members of their community. Legal or health workers may know the abuser or their families. Community members and neighbours may be bystanders or violate confidentiality.
  • Decreased access to transportation, cell phone, or internet: Transportation, if available can be time-consuming and/or costly. Rural women have unreliable cell phone service, where many calls to services are considered long-distance and traceable on bills (a threat to privacy), and only 40% of rural households have access to high-speed internet. Women rely on the internet to access health care and employment opportunities.
  • Increased Isolation Among the Marginalized: Racialized, LGBTTIQQ2S, disabled, and older rural women face many social barriers. In addition, they face systemic discrimination throughout the justice, health, and economic systems.

Women’s Centres have an open door policy, meaning our clients do not need to declare a reason for coming to a centre. This policy means women can come for programming, but stay for the support they can’t access elsewhere including domestic violence situations.

Employment

Rural women, especially racialized and immigrant women are more likely to have precarious work than their urban counterparts.  16.1% of Nova Scotia’s workforce is temporarily employed, 18.5% work part-time.

Only 20% of self-employed rural women earn an income of $20,000 or more, compared to 31% of self-employed urban women and 43% of self-employed rural men. The lack of digital infrastructure and high prices of available services prevent many rural women from pursuing entrepreneurial work and training opportunities.

Women’s Centres offer a number of services to women including clothing closets to support women returning to work. Individual employment counselling and referrals via our outreach teams. This is in addition to advocacy for increased employment, income, and social security, and relationship-building with organizations such as the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and Nova Scotia Coalition for Well Being.

Housing

One issue that is not exclusive to rural women is the lack of housing. Hidden homelessness such as couch surfing or sleeping in one’s car are common in rural areas. The Government of Nova Scotia states that unhoused women in rural areas are more often lone-parent families, senior, Indigenous, racialized and/or disabled women compared to urban areas. Yet social and affordable housing remains a critical issue in rural Nova Scotia. The lack of alternate housing options in rural areas is more pronounced than in urban areas. More than 60 percent of applicants to social housing are women.

Each Women’s Centre provides individual counselling and referrals for women who are seeking housing. In addition, Women Centres Connect has implemented an instance of the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System to make this process more efficient. We have also been working with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia and Transitional Housing Association of Nova Scotia to provide support.

Gender Inequity and Rural Health Infrastructure

Underfunding of the health system, social and environmental factors negatively impact rural women’s health. Doctors are often not able to perform essential primary services efficiently because of a lack of reliable broadband services. Women’s health in rural areas is compounded by a lack of potable water and an excess of pollution.

Rural Nova Scotia lacks a sufficient number of primary physicians. Specialists and health teams are also understaffed. For example, only 4% of Canada’s obstetricians and gynecologists work in communities with less than 25,000 people. In Nova Scotia 17 midwives provide services for 3% of births across the province. Reproductive health care needs often require women to travel to urban locations to access services.

Women’s Centres have health clinics offering specialized 2SLGBTQIA+, women’s, and sexual healthcare services. In addition, we also provide several prevention-based mental health support groups. We also provide administrative support for Indigenous-led programs addressing the systemic and environmental causes of health concerns.

Additional funding would allow Women’s Centres to recruit and train rural community members entering the health care sector, offer 1-on-1 and/or culturally appropriate therapeutic support services. These services could be dispatched to the community to increase prevention.

Rural communities need more and rural women deserve more.

Eliminating sexual violence in rural communities requires a transformative social response for the long-term. We call on government leaders to:

  • Increase representation from rural communities; without rural women at the table transformative change cannot happen
  • Incorporate an intersectional GBA+ analysis when setting health and social policy agendas particularly in rural communities
  • Connect social spending to inflation and projected health and social sector demands especially in rural areas
  • Fund diverse community-based social initiatives and rural health service providers, including outreach, support and therapy.
  • Fund additional 2SLGBTTIQQ and reproductive health service workers in rural communities
  • Fund additional culturally-responsive rural outreach and support workers and group programming.

Rural women depend on a network of outreach and social services to cope. These services are decreasingly funded. A weak rural tax base is often cited as a reason. That is only part of the story. These services cannot be effectively implemented unless rural women are invited to the table. This is why Connect continues to engage our clients in our programming and planning that supports our advocacy efforts.