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Claiming Spaces at The Stop

Toronto may be booming, but its women are being left behind.

Women are more likely to experience poverty and food insecurity than men, 16.7% are living below the poverty line, and women of colour are earning $12,000 less than white women for equal work.

Despite this gap, so many services designed to support low-income people don’t take into account women’s unique experiences, needs, and risks.

If we’re committed to providing the most effective responses to poverty and food insecurity, we need to be focusing on the people most affected.

Here at The Stop, we’ve also received feedback from women that they don’t always feel comfortable in our own Drop-in spaces—spaces which are predominantly male.

Faced with this new knowledge, we knew we had to act quickly and thoughtfully to ensure a safer, more inclusive environment for our female-identifying community members.

In 2019, we launched Claiming Spaces, an initiative to train a group of our staff to address the barriers women face when accessing our community servicesparticularly women with mental health needs, trans women, women with disabilities and Deaf women, women living and working on the street, sex workers, Aboriginal women, senior women, and other vulnerable groups.

We’re working to ensure that we have the knowledge to reach more at-risk women in our community, and to create more genuinely transformative spaces across our three sites.

Here’s how Claiming Spaces works:

In early 2019, over 50 women-identifying donors came together to collectively raise $50,000 to support our work to analyze and improve our spaces with a gender-inclusive lens.

Winsome Miller, our Community Programs Manager, then designed a comprehensive roll-out plan that includes staff education, community outreach, and gender-based needs assessments.

As the first step, a small Stop team will soon be trained by consultants and sector experts to create gender-inclusive spaces and identify women that are at risk of domestic violence.

The team will use their new knowledge to survey women in the community (both those who use our services and those who don’t) to identify gaps and opportunities. This may include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and interactive activities. Right now, we’re working with our neighbours at DPNCHC to hold a photography and storytelling workshop for women in late spring so that we can see the community through their eyes.

These survey results will then be used to make improvements throughout The Stop’s wide range of programs. We’ll be tweaking everything from service offerings to refreshing the design of our spaces.

This can’t be a one-off exercise. To ensure that this gender-inclusive lens remains embedded across the organization, ongoing training and workshops will be mandatory for all staff.

Adopting a gender-inclusive approach is long overdue in traditionally male-dominated drop-in spaces, and we know that there is much to learn in this groundbreaking work.

We’re excited to share our knowledge and strategies in the coming months!

Are you interested in supporting programs for women at The Stop? Contact Roz!