Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Is the Social Economy Better for Women Than Workfare? the Case of Social Economy Enterprises in Home Care Services

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Is the Social Economy Better for Women Than Workfare? the Case of Social Economy Enterprises in Home Care Services

Article excerpt

The author looks at changes within the community sector and the new conditions introduced by public policies at the provincial level, mainly welfare reform. She looks also at the current development of social economy enterprises within the Quebec home care services sector, using the Ontario Workfare policy as a comparator.

L'auteure examine les changements dans le secteur communitaire et les nouvelles conditions introduites par les politiques publiques au niveau provincial, en particulier, la reforme de l'assistance sociale. L'auteure etudie egalement le developpement actuel des entreprises de reconomie sociale dans le secteur des services a domicile au Quebec, en utilisant comme comparateur la politique ontarienne de Workfare.


For several years now, high hopes have been placed on the social economy's potential to create employment within the community sector. In Quebec, renewed interest in the social economy is very strong among many activists within community groups and women's groups and also within academic circles, as the numerous research centres and research projects tend to show. (1) Because women are overwhelmingly involved in the community sector--as consumers and providers of services as well as paid workers and unpaid/volunteer workers --it is of primary importance that a feminist critique look at the social economy and what it means for women whose status of employment and level of income depend on this sector. (2)

Myths concerning the values and goals of the social economy are numerous and persistent. The social economy is not a new phenomenon. Its history spans several centuries and has, over time, adopted many ideological trends and political meanings (Laville, 1995; Guay, 1998). Currently presented as an alternative to the dominant neo-liberal economy, particularly in the context of globalization and state restructuring, the social economy's achievements are particularly hard to measure. Or are they? After several years of local practices and local development--some successful and others less so--and after several unmet demands made by the Quebec women's movement on the state to create employment for women and to adequately finance women's groups (Coalition de la marche des femmes contre la pauvrete, 1995; David, 1997), it appears that the social economy has neither changed the low-income status of people--especially women living on welfare, immigrant women and women of colour--nor come to represent a real challenge to the neo-liberal regime that took hold in Quebec a few decades ago.

Indeed, a tension exists between the goals of the state and those of women's and other community organizations. It looks as though policy makers and systems managers had other things on their minds than the redistribution of wealth when they agreed to finance social economy enterprises in 1996 as a way of acknowledging the practices within the community sector. Creating jobs under the label of the social economy was presented as the solution for underemployment of welfare recipients, along with the resolution of many social problems within localized communities. Because welfare reform was the major focus of policy makers and systems managers, an assessment of the outcomes of social economy enterprises necessitates the scrutiny of the conditions under which women are employed within these enterprises--especially since many of these enterprises are financed through the Quebec Employability program--and demands a comparison with the working conditions of those women who are forced to comply with Workfare programs implemented elsewhere in Canada. My aim in this article is not to judge the social economy as a discourse and as a practice; rather, my aim is to look at what happens when the community sector is diverted by governmental institutions and becomes the target of a public policy like the Quebec Employability policy, as it did in Ontario with Workfare (Michaud, 2005). …

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