Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Women's Work as Voluntary Board Members

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Women's Work as Voluntary Board Members

Article excerpt

Voluntary boards of feminist organizations inevitably embody questions about the distribution of power and influence. The pressures of globalization which have resulted in the federal government's slow withdrawal from universal funding provide the conditioning framework for women's work as voluntary board members. This article explores the dynamics of women's work as voluntary board members on the board of a feminist service organization in Eastern Canada.

Les conseils d'administration volontaires des organismes feministes incarnent inevitablement la problematique de la distribution du pouvoir et de l'influence exercee. La pression exercee par la globalization et dont le resultat a ete le retrait du soutien financier universel de la part du gouvernement encadrent le travail des femmes au sein de conseils d'administration volontaires. Cet article examine cette dynamique dans le contexte du conseil d'administration d'un organisme feministe a l'est du Canada.


Voluntary organizations can be important in supporting social welfare activities and making the state more democratic and responsive to the rights and needs of all its citizens. As the federal government continues to reallocate its spending dollars and provincial governments and local organizations attempt to adjust to cuts and realignment in government spending (Roeher Institute, 1993; Yalnizian, 1993; Kerans, 1994; Cohen et al. 1998), the ideology of the market provides the "conditioning framework" (Cohen, 1997) for thinking about social welfare. While some argue that the community provision of services is always preferable to professional government services in the field of social welfare (McKnight, 1995), Canadian feminists have worked toward democratic community control of state supported feminist organizations. Voluntary action among women and government funding are not substitutes for one another but rather, in Canada, have become interdependent activities. This situation of government funding for women's services has been the result of a feminist struggle over women's rights as citizens to state funding.

Feminist voluntary organizations have pioneered services and expanded the range of programs available to women beyond what government services or established charities were previously able to provide. Many women have contributed voluntary labour to initiate and steer such community organizations through complex social and economic terrain, having learned to navigate the maze of government departments and funding sources. They have also learned to negotiate social tensions inherent in civil society.

Globalization and the mobility of capital are forces that push the reorganization of capital on human services. Women who have different types of work patterns from men are almost always among the first to experience the negative consequences of the redesign of social programs (Cohen, 1997). The structure of Canada's income support programs (family allowance, unemployment insurance, child support and social assistance) that creates this disparity; Canadian children (especially children living in single parent families) are poorer than those living in Europe (Phipps, 1993). The renewed reliance on the marketplace as the economic mechanism to meet basic social needs can never fully replace the necessity for government funding of public services which in Canada have long supported voluntary action (Brown, 1996). Neither the marketplace nor government services have initiated programs to respond to the needs identified by the feminist movement, originally identified and developed by the efforts of feminists in voluntary community organizations.

The organizations and community groups on whose boards feminists have worked have become significant contributors to the movement for change that is beneficial to women. The pressure of the federal government's withdrawal from universal funding notwithstanding, feminists have also had to opportunity to test out strategies for survival under conditions which are less than favourable because of their early identification of private troubles as public issues. …

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