As an organization dedicated to supporting marginalized women, it’s probably not surprising that pursuing equality is a key part of our mission. But what do we mean by ‘equality’? At first blush, it may seem we want women to have the exact same treatment and supports as men. However, that’s not strictly true. What we want is for women to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
What is Justice?
Like it or not, the truth is biology makes the life experiences of men and women different. There is no place this is more evident than when it comes to responsibility for children. When male parents go to prison, their children are almost invariably cared for by their mother. When female parents go to prison, the vast majority of the time they are single mothers, so their children either end up with relatives or go into foster care.
Think about that for a moment – when a mother (and two-thirds of female inmates are mothers living below the poverty line) goes to prison, she is not the only one paying a price. Her children often lose their home, their school, their friends and their caregiver.
At EFry, we support women all along the spectrum of justice system involvement. We work to address the risk factors that lead to women committing crimes: addiction, homelessness, and the big one—poverty. Ninety per cent of women in prison are there for crimes arising from poverty: prostitution, theft or fraud. Virtually all of that ninety percent serve sentences of less than six months. Is society safer with these women behind bars or would our communities be better off if these women had access to the tools to legally improve their financial situation?
Should incarceration severe parental rights? Children under the age of five can become permanent wards of the government after just three months. Think about the impact of that from the child’s perspective.
The True Meaning of Equality
For EFry, equality means ensuring women, and their children, have safety of person through female-only homeless shelters and prisons. It means making sure incarcerated women receive the same statutory and regulatory benefits as their male counterparts. And, it means helping children with an incarcerated parent get the support and opportunities they need to blossom like other children their age. Equality of impact and outcome are the compass points which guide our work.
#DignityEqualityOpportunity. Three words. One mission.
For more than 75 years, EFry Vancouver has worked to support equality for women touched by the justice system. We have achieved many milestones in our journey but there are still many miles to go.