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Social Enterprise Helps Pave the Path for Women

March 8, 2011 marks the centennial anniversary of International Women’s Day. Although significant progress has been made since the first International Women’s Day was held in 1911, we still have a long way to go to ensure women in every country have the same rights, freedoms, and protections as their male counterparts.

In order to highlight a specific facet of the many issues women face globally, the United Nations selects a theme for each International Women’s Day. For the year 2011, the United Nations has chosen to highlight the following issues:

Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women

In honour of this 100th anniversary, this post will focus on the “pathway to decent work for women” aspect of 2011’s theme by providing a list of social enterprises that endeavour to improve the lives of Canadian women. From tangible results such as employment skills and work experience, to intangible outcomes related to self-esteem and personal accomplishment, the following organizations all play a role in making the United Nations 2011 theme for International Women’s Day a reality.Tradeworks Custom Products
Vancouver, British Columbia
Tradeworks Custom Products is a novel social enterprise that helps women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside gain training and entry-level work experience. The women employed by Tradeworks Custom Products are able to escape the cycle of poverty by learning how to produce and customize quality wood products. Tradeworks Custom Products uses repurposed and FSC certified wood, which reflects the organization’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Women In Need Society
Calgary, Alberta
The Women In Need Society’s (WINS) mission is to help women and their families help themselves. One of the ways WINS accomplishes this is through the four thrift stores they operate in Calgary. Working in a WINS Thrift Stores provides the opportunity for women who are entering or reentering the work force to gain employment experience, a steady income, self-confidence, and a support network. In addition, all revenues generated by WINS Thrift Stores are reinvested into WINS programs and services.

Our Thyme Cafe
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Dartmouth runs Our Thyme Café, which is a café and catering company that has an all-female staff. The women who work at Our Thyme Café are at risk of, or currently are, experiencing homelessness and/or have an involvement with the criminal justice system. Through their work, female employees are able to gain hospitality sector skills, food handling certification, job readiness preparation, and work experience. As a workplace, Our Thyme Café provides supportive and sustainable employment opportunities for at-risk women.

London, Ontario
Imogene’s is a clothing manufacturer and retail outlet that provides super and plus sized women’s clothing. All of the revenue Imogene’s earns is reinvested to support the programs and services offered by the Women’s Employment Resource Centre in Woodstock, Ontario. All of the clothing that is produced and sold by Imogene’s is made in Canada.

EthniCity Catering
Calgary, Alberta
EthniCity Catering, which is a catering company run by Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, offers employment opportunities for women who have recently arrived in Canada. Working for EthniCity allows immigrant women to learn about Canadian work practices, gain valuable on-the-job training, and practice their English language skills within a safe and supportive environment.

This short but sweet list of Canadian social enterprises provides a glimpse into how businesses run by the non-profit sector are providing pathways to decent work for Canadian women. But keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive. In fact, I’ve made sure it’s a little on the short side in the hopes that you will let us know about your favourite female-focused Canadian social enterprises.

Every woman has the right to decent work, and we would love to hear about the social enterprise initiatives in your community that are helping to make this a reality.

Happy 100th International Women’s Day!

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