Group aims to change 'feminine face' of poverty in Saint John

Poverty is different for women, says Brenda Murphy, the executive director of a Saint John group trying to remove barriers that struggling women face getting into the workforce.

Fundraiser to take place on Thursday to hear from senator, graduates who want to share experiences

Women from the Saint John Women's Empowerment Network's signature program, Power Up!, participated in events for International Women's Day. The program, which has graduated over 330 women, recently expanded into St. Stephen and Miramichi. (Submitted by SJWEN)

When the Saint John Women's Empowerment Network was founded in 1994, its mandate was simple: change policies holding back women in Saint John from working.

In 2017, although many of barriers have been removed, "poverty still most often has a feminine face," said executive director Brenda Murphy.

Many Saint John women still become trapped in a cycle of poverty when their children are young and they can't afford daycare, Murphy said.

"We have a high number of single parents and they want to work, but the biggest issue is finding adequate and affordable childcare," she said. "Poverty is different for women."

Education and empowerment

The network's signature program Power Up! is "designed to help women take the next step to employment: education, training, or becoming more involved in their community."

These are big barriers to overcome, and women still are overcoming them.- Brenda Murphy, Women's Empowerment Network

The program has graduated more than  330 women and recently expanded into St. Stephen and Miramichi.

Other programs offer training to residents in priority neighbourhoods, and teach women methods to improve self-esteem.

On Thursday, a fundraiser at the Delta hotel will raise money for programs such as Power Up! Graduates from the program will share their experiences.

Senator to speak

Senator Nancy Hartling, an independent senator from Moncton who worked with single mothers for over three decades in the non-profit sector, will give a keynote speech titled "A Canada 150 Vision for Women."

"We know from the day-to-day work we've done in the trenches that we need to bring women's grassroots experiences to Ottawa," Hartling said.

"A lot of women go to get post-secondary education, but they're being paid a meagre wage and working two or three jobs and trying to raise a family. That's a serious problem."

New Brunswick Senator Nancy Hartling, centre, shown at her swearing-in with fellow senators Peter Harder and Elaine McCoy, will speak Oct. 19 in Saint John. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"I'm excited to some to Saint John and to share a little bit of the knowledge I've acquired in Ottawa, but also listen to the concerns that they have. It also has to be a two-way conversation."

Murphy hopes that the network can build the support it needs to improve services for the women who come through its programs.

Others in Saint John should be aware of the tenacity of women in the community — and also get inspired to help out, she said.

"Despite the issues, women still are out there trying to find work, are working, are staying at work," Murphy said.

"Those are big barriers to overcome, and women still are overcoming them.

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.