Breaking the Links between poverty and violence against women: A resource guide – Approaches



The strategies presented in the previous section of the Guide were designed, planned and delivered by the service-providing groups based upon their understanding of the root causes of poverty and violence and their impact on women. While counselling and other support services are critical to helping abused women gain the psychological independence they need to overcome violence, personal supports must be combined with a community response that takes into account the systemic barriers that isolate women and prevent them from leaving abusive situations.

As will be outlined, community approaches require an integrated and holistic perspective which involves working alongside others to raise awareness about violence and to address the fundamental dynamics of inequality that form its roots.

This section presents some approaches that are being used by groups to guide their analysis, planning and delivery of strategies. What these approaches have in common is that they are about working collaboratively to challenge violence against women and poverty in their communities. These approaches are to be used as tools to guide the way in working with women and with the broader community to create the conditions - both systemic and personal - to help women break out of the cycle of poverty and violence. These approaches draw from the experience and knowledge of feminist groups and movements, community development initiatives and Aboriginal people.

A Feminist Approach

There is no single way to describe feminism....What unites us as a movement is a desire to transform our communities, organizations and even the world into safe and equitable places.

Source: Smith (2003), p.9.

Feminism is a theoretical framework for understanding violence against women that has guided approaches to services for abused women in Canada for many decades. Feminism is rooted in the fundamental view that violence against women stems from an unequal power relationship between men and women.

Through feminism our understanding of violence has evolved to reflect a better recognition of the complex ways in which gender, race and class intersect and how this further marginalizes women, especially Aboriginal women, women of colour, immigrant and refugee women, rural, poor or homeless women, women with disabilities and lesbians.

The feminist approach shown below was developed over 10 years ago by the Ottawa's Regional Coordinating Committee to End Violence Against Women. It remains a useful tool for groups that are interested in the feminist approach to service provision for abused women. The Coordinating Committee, which is now called The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW), also offers a number of more recently-evolved feminist principles: that violence against women is an equality rights issue; that service providers need to actively design services for inclusiveness rather than simply respecting differences; and that the concept of 'choice' should better account for the social and economic barriers that keep women from accessing services.

Basic Beliefs Underlying Services for Abused Women

Basic Beliefs Underlying Services for Abused Women
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Basic Beliefs Underlying Services for Abused Women

  • Accountability
  • Accessibility
  • Choice
  • Equality
  • Responsibility
  • Respect for Differences
  • Women-Positive

Services for Abused Women

  • Direct Service
  • Co-ordination of Service and Policy
  • Training and Development
  • Community Education
  • Advocacy
  • Evaluation
  • It is a basic human right for all individuals to live their lives in a non-violent environment.
  • Understanding and naming the issues of power and control are fundamental to the task of ending violence against women and children.
  • The service network must address the issue of violence at both the individual and the systemic level in order to create a non-violent community.
  • Psychological, emotional, sexual, physical and financial abuse against women are major social and health problems. Women should have access to appropriate help for all forms of abuse.
  • Violence against women is not a private family matter but it is a criminal offence which demands that perpetrators, not their victims, be held responsible for the violence.
  • Women who have additional needs due to age, language, culture, disability, poverty, geographical location or sexual orientation require services that are sensitive to and reflect these needs.
  • Children who witness their mothers being abused are victims of abuse. Advocating for and ensuring the development of appropriate services for these children are essential to meeting their needs and the needs of their mothers.
  • Women can take control of the personal aspects of their lives provided they are given true choices, accurate information and the opportunity to be equal partners in all aspects of society.
  • A coordinated, comprehensive community approach to service delivery is essential to create the choices noted above and to meet the many needs of abused women and children.
  • Ending violence in the family is everybody's responsibility. Governments, businesses, voluntary groups, institutions and service providers must be involved in public education and activities that contribute to social change.
  • Women survivors of violence are essential partners in the work of service development, public education and social change.
  • Services which are helpful to abused women and their children must be accountable to the women who use the service and the staff, the volunteers and the community.

Source: Regional Coordinating Committee to End Violence Against Women (1993), p.11.

For more information, please contact: OCTEVAW, 312 Parkdale Ave., Ottawa, ON, K1Y 4X5, Tel.: 613-725-3601 / Fax: 613-725-3605 E-mail: Web:

A Community Development Approach

Community development is generally understood as a process whereby people who share a common geographical location, identity, interest or problem, come together to improve the quality of life in their community. At one time, community development was viewed rather narrowly as community economic development, ignoring the non-material aspects of peoples' lives. The concept has evolved and is now more often understood as a process whereby community members actively engage in improving their quality of life in terms of access to economic opportunities, respect for their rights and participation in decisions that will affect their lives.

The re-creation of communities so that they are capable of sustaining human well-being is certainly one of the most difficult and challenging issues facing the human family as we enter the twenty-first century.

Source: Bopp& Bopp (2006), p.3.

In recent years poverty reduction has become a focus of community development initiatives. Advocates have recognized that community development approaches for low-income women who have been abused must address not only the personal and economic barriers that women face, but also the physical, human and social barriers such as access to child/elder care, secure housing, information, skills, ability, health, social networks and political agency.

The Sustainable Livelihood Approach

The Sustainable Livelihood Approach was developed by the Women and Economic Development Consortium (WEDC) in 2001 building on work done in Britain by the British Department for International Development and the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex. It "reflects a growing perspective that economic development work with low-income women requires a comprehensive approach, respecting the diversity and complexity of their lives. It explores the dimensions of women's livelihood assets, their vulnerability context, their asset-building strategies and the stages that women go through in their transformation toward a sustainable livelihood" (Murray &Ferguson 2001, 3).

Sustainable Livelihoods is a holistic, asset-based framework for understanding poverty and the work of poverty reduction. It is attractive because it can be used as a broad conceptual framework or as a practical tool for designing programs.

Source: Eric Leviten-Reid, Consultant, Caledon Institute of Social Policy, www.

This new asset-building perspective focuses not on the deficits of those living in poverty, but on the assets or building blocks that women themselves can invest in to become more self-sufficient and to achieve their objectives (Murray & Ferguson 2001, 3). This asset- building model is comprehensive, multisectoral, and takes into account the financial, human, physical, personal and social dimensions of women's lives.

The Five Asset Building Blocks diagram presents the components of an asset-based approach to community development. The building blocks highlight different aspects of women's lives and the areas in which they may face barriers, factors that should considered in any poverty reduction effort.

The Five Asset Building Blocks
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The Five Asset Building Blocks

Financial Assets

  • Income from productive activity (employment/self-employment)
  • Available finances/savings
  • Regular inflows of money from:
    • Government transfers
    • Family
    • Gifts
    • In-kind
  • Credit rating
  • Access to credit

Human Assets

  • Skills (including technical and interpersonal)
  • Knowledge
  • Ability
  • Employability and earning power
  • Good health
  • Leadership

Physical Assets

  • Cooperation
  • Networks, interconnectedness
  • Family support
  • Friendships
  • Relationships of trust/exchanges
  • Partnership and collaboration
  • Political participation

Personal Assets

  • Motivation
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-perception
  • Emotional well-being
  • Assertiveness
  • Spirituality

Social Assets

  • Child/elder care
  • Secure shelter
  • Clean affordable energy
  • Information
  • Banking and access to related services
  • Basic consumer needs, e.g. local grocery store and other services
  • Affordable transportation
  • Tools and equipment
  • Natural resources
  • Air and water quality

The Sustainable Livelihoods framework serves as a useful tool for talking about the different dimensions and levels of action. With this framework, agencies that are working with low-income women can organize efforts to support women in building their assets. Eko Nomos, a Canadian company, refined the model to make it more accessible and applicable to the Canadian context (see A wide variety of community groups have found it useful as a resource for thinking about their work.

For more information refer to the Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets , Department for International Development (DFI).

Community Development from an Aboriginal Perspective

...the circle represents the hoop of the people. All of the people are a part. No one is excluded. The hurt of one is the hurt of all. The honour of one is the honour of all.

Phil Lane Sr., Yankton Sioux elder

Source: Bopp& Bopp (2006), p.23.

Some Aboriginal people are turning to the traditional medicine wheel as a model for understanding the community development process. The medicine wheel is an ancient symbol which represents an entire world view (a way of seeing and knowing) and the teachings that go with it. The circle means that everything is connected to everything else in life. Nothing can happen to any one part of the circle without affecting all other parts.

One of the unique teachings of this approach is that the spiritual dimensions of human development are as important as other the areas of development (mental, emotional and physical).

The Medicine Wheel Model

"Fitting it all Together"

The Medicine Wheel Model
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The Medicine Wheel Model


  • Dominant Thinking Patterns
  • Political & Administrative
  • Political & Ideological Environment
  • Human Relations
  • Social Environment
  • Social


  • Physical Environment & Economy
  • Economic & Environment
  • Economic & Ecological Environment


  • Cultural & Spiritual Life
  • Cultural & Spiritual
  • Cultural Environment

In this approach, human and community development mean the following:

  1. The development of the person, with respect to the mental, emotional physical and spiritual dimensions.
  2. The development of the family and small groups with respect to dominant thinking patterns, human relations, physical environment and economy, and cultural and spiritual life.
  3. The development of the community with respect to its political and administrative, economic, social, and cultural and spiri tual life. The context of the wider world within which human and community deve lopment is taking place. This context includes the political and bureaucratic environment, the social environment, the economic environment, and the dominant cultural environment.
  4. The context of the wider world within which human and community development is taking place. This context includes the political and bureaucratic environment, the social environment, the economic environment, and the dominant cultural environment.

The diagram presents four large categories of development, all going on at the same time, with each level affecting all the other levels.

For more information please refer to: Bopp, Michael & Bopp, Judie (2006). Recreating the World: A Practical Guide to Building Sustainable Communities . Cochrane: Four Worlds Press, pp.21-34. This publication is available from: Four Worlds Press, P.O. Box 395, Cochrane, ALTA, Tel: 403-932-0882 / Fax: 403-392- 0883 / Email: / Web:

Inuit Principles for Healing and Working Together

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada recently developed a guide that builds on a holistic approach to preventing abuse in Inuit communities and includes traditional knowledge and wisdom which could benefit people or groups seeking to address violence in their community. Six guiding principles of Inuit traditional knowledge form the basis for Inuit counselling practices and action steps serve as a guide for effective joint actions to prevent abuse and promote healing. These principles are:

Applying Inuit Principals of Healing

Piliriqatigiinngniq - working together for the common good

This principle implies knowing one's role within a family, community or organization, and making judgments and decisions that benefit everyone rather than a few.

Avatikmik Kamattiarniq - environmental wellness

This principle can be interpreted as a balanced and healthy interconnectedness of the mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions of the individual, the family and the community.

Pijittsirarniq - service to others and leadership

These concepts together contribute to the common good and are not mutually exclusive, but inherently part of the same ideal of wisdom in Inuit culture.

Pilimmaksarniq - empowerment

Inuit can and should use all sources of appro-priate information, gathering it and using it to right social and spiritual wrongs, and to work toward a balanced and strong Inuit society.

Qanuqtuurunnarniq - resourcefulness and adaptability

Inuit have great capacity to be creative, flexible and solution oriented.

Aajiiqatigiinngniq - cooperation and consensus

The Inuit healing process is successful only to the extent that it is reciprocal, based throughout on the opinions and contribu-tions of clients and counselors, leaders and community members, each recognizing the value of the other's perspective. Thus, solutions are reached by consensus and therefore are sound.

Source: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada (2006). National Strategy to Prevent Abuse in Inuit Communities, and Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Wisdom: Guide to the National Strategy , pp.5-6.

This Strategy and Guide are available in Inuktitut and English from Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, call toll free: 1-800-667-0749; telephone: 613-238-3977, or download it from the website: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

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