New funding from the federal government is helping young women in the Alexandra Park communities get the training they need to become leaders in their community.
The two-year pilot project, dubbed Economic Empowerment for Young Women and run through the Scadding Court Community Centre, recently received more than $127,000 from the Canadian government. It will pair the young women, aged 15 to 24, with professionals, connect them with politicians and not-for-profits and help them guide projects to improve the area.
“Part of the reason it’s happening here now is the Alexandra Park neighbourhood is very much in transition,” said Scadding Court Community Centre manager of development and community engagement Nikki Toten.
“A few blocks of dead space will be transformed and we want these young women to have a voice.”
The project started out with a strict focus on economic empowerment and, while that remains a key tenet of the program, it will also lead to the participating young women gaining valuable leadership skills.
“When I first came into the program, I wanted to learn about women’s empowerment in general,” said participant Zeenat Afghan. “There still isn’t gender equality and the work forces are still not equal (in terms of salary).”
Afghan noted the program breaks down other barriers, demystifying the concepts of feminism and female empowerment.”
Fellow participant Tomiko Ferguson agreed women are traditionally underpaid and underrepresented at upper management levels in a disturbing number of fields.
“We’re learning about women as leaders in a lot of fields, including politics and the corporate world,” she said. “The numbers haven’t changed as much as they should.”
That could change with the experience young women in the program are gaining. By meeting with women in positions of power, participants will not only gain mentorship, but also see what is possible.
From there, they will use what they learn as a springboard to improve the Alexandra Park community and surrounding area.
“The women are leading a needs assessment in the community,” Toten said.
“They’re going to get into project development and come up with projects they really think will address the needs they’re finding.”
While the project is in its fledgling stages, its teaching will also allow participants to share what they learn with other young women in the community.
“Right now, we’re being trained, but we’ll be going out and informing other women once we’re prepared,” said participant Thusika Kanagachandran.
The project will run until early 2015.