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Where are the women?

Leanne Rose Sladde

I am writing this article to be provocative. To invite dialogue on an issue that I believe is fundamental to the development of our profession.

Several years ago Penny Parry published an article in the Journal of Child and Youth Care Work (1989, volume 5) which highlighted the absence of women being recognized as leaders in the Child and Youth Care field. This was evidenced mainly through their under representation in the literature, as keynote speakers at our provincial and national conferences, and as “image makers – those seen to hold expertise" (Parry, pg. 18). The article was of particular interest to me at the time as a woman completing her masters in Child and Youth Care, and focusing some of my inquiry on what practitioners saw as professional issues in our field. I have since, through my journeys in Child and Youth Care education, kept Penny’s observations in the back of my mind, not so much to prove them right or wrong, but more so to see if I notice a shift in the field. The first change observed is that some of the women that Penny identified in her article are no longer contributing to the writing in the field and/or have chosen to express their professional identity differently. Secondly, the field of Child and Youth Care in Canada still seems to prefer the male voice to those of the women in the field who have continually contributed to the knowledge base and professionalization of the field and would be brilliant keynote speakers.

I was struck by the decision of the National Conference Committee to invite two keynote speakers from other countries to open our national conference in Newfoundland and hopefully inspire us to feel valued and professional. I found myself feeling marginalized and voiceless, and felt a bit incensed that for some reason we still rely on the “expertise" of those outside Canada, and, more noticeably, men. This is not to say that I don’t believe the two men chosen to be brilliant contributors to our field, or lack any confidence in their ability to speak to Canadian Child and Youth Care practitioners. My reaction has really been about how, once again, we do not promote Canadian contributors to the field of Child and Youth Care, and certainly do not seem to recognize or acknowledge the many brilliant women in our field and in our country.

In a conversation with one of my male colleagues, I raised my concerns. His comments back to me were very telling and although I cannot quote his words exactly, the general comment was that he could only think of two women that he could have put forward to do the job. Herein lies the issue, why is it that only two women in all of Canadian Child and Youth Care come to his mind? Curious to me when our educational programs in Child and Youth Care are filled primarily with women, and women still dominate the front line positions.

I feel somewhat cautious about offending those who put many tireless hours into the organization of a conference as well as those who have given inspirational keynote addresses in the past, and who have contributed greatly to our literature. This is not to take away from what has been, only to provoke my colleagues across Canada and maybe across the world to recognize the incredible resource that we have in the women of our countries. Women who were once girl children!

To the next conference organizing committee: Call me.