WISE began in the summer of 2003 as one woman's vision.
In exasperation with a system that had no heart, 'Chris' wrote her story of painful marginalization.
With the urging of a friend, the story came to the attention of an understanding Programs Officer at Status of Women Canada. Together, the two women convinced Chris to write a proposal for a project on women's poverty.
Since only organizations or groups could, at that time, receive project funding* and Chris' poverty had kept her isolated from and distrustful of existing groups, she created her own group.
WISE subsequently began growing into a national movement, led by women living in poverty and supported by other persons and groups who shared our values.
Based in British Columbia, we worked to address the causal link between policy and poverty, educate people about the effects of poverty on the health and wellbeing of citizens and their communities, and support one another in introducing and implementing inexpensive, creative solutions at the local level. Aiming for progressive policy change, we focused on exposing the links between policy, poverty and health, and mobilizing for change.
Our goals included:
- raising the collective voice of women who are living in poverty due to policies of exclusion;
- changing public understanding of poverty: from that of socioeconomic inevitability, to a condition of social and economic exclusion;
- encouraging community members to work with us to reduce poverty in our neighbourhoods to the benefit of all;
- ensuring that policymakers understand the worsening economic situation of an increasing number of Canadians to have a systemic cause, one that they can be instrumental in changing.
We saw our task as twofold: 1) to change public perception and understanding of what poverty is and how the cycle of poverty is possible - until this happens, policymakers and politicians are unlikely to do more than pay lip service to the increasing problem of poverty in this country; and 2) to introduce new ways (or reintroduce old, successful ways) of addressing poverty and related issues at the community level.
*This policy has since changed. Now groups of marginalized women must have formed an incorporated non-profit society before their projects will be considered for funding. Had this been the case at the time of WISE's formation, WISE, its Policies of Exclusion, Poverty and Health project, and all the good that WISE has done would never have happened.
Chrystal Ocean (aka 'Chris')