Principal Investigator and Director, Feminist Northern Network
Master of Arts, Political Economy (’99)
Life in Canada’s North can be incredibly hard. Aside from the harsh climate, well-paying jobs are hard to come by and food and shelter are expensive, driving many people into poverty.
According to Jane Stinson, the situation for women in the North can be particularly dire.
“New resource-based jobs for women in the North are usually in cleaning, cooking and office work,” explains Ms. Stinson, a lifelong advocate of women’s rights. “There’s usually a large migrant male population working in the resource industry, which leads to an increased risk of violence towards women and sexual exploitation.”
From 2010 to 2016, Ms. Stinson investigated these issues as the director of the Feminist Northern Network (FemNorthNet), a network of researchers and northern women community leaders that explored how new economic development in northern Canada is changing communities socially, economically and culturally for women and their families.
“The goal was to engage women in three northern communities to talk about changes in their lives and communities and to find different ways, suited to each community, to empower local women and bring forward their concerns,” explains Ms. Stinson.
FemNorthNet, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Status of Women Canada (SWC) and other grants, is part of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW). The Network has involved women in Thompson, Manitoba; Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador; and Labrador West.
“For instance, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the women were worried about the loss of access to traditional land that was an important source of berries, hunting and fishing,” says Ms. Stinson. “What we learned is that women don’t see their experiences individually. Even if they had a job, they were concerned about their community.”
Ms. Stinson earned her master’s degree from the Institute of Political Economy in the midst of a 30-year career working in the national office of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) doing research, member education and staff training. She credits her experience in the program with changing her perception of her work.
“Returning for my master’s degree helped me make sense of my experiences within the union. It provided a theoretical and global context for them,” she recalls. “It also gave me the confidence to undertake large research projects like one on the impact of privatization on hospital workers in British Columbia and eventually to become the project director for FemNorthNet.”
Ms. Stinson’s thesis drew on her union roots: she studied the uneven wage benefits that resulted from Ontario’s pay equity legislation for CUPE Ontario hospital workers.
“It reinforced for me that the only rights you have as an employee are in your collective agreement. I deeply believe unions play a major role in making society a better place,” says Ms. Stinson, who is also investigating the impact of the changing public service on diverse women in another SSHRC-funded CRIAW research project.
Ms. Stinson’s belief in social justice is reflected in her advice for current students as well. “Get involved in your community, get practical experience and study your passion,” she says.