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Listening to Rural Women

by Blythe Shepard
Did you know?

  • One in five Canadian women live in rural areas; only 2% of rural women live on farms.
  • Rural women tend to be self-employed and to work part-time and seasonally compared to their urban counterparts and are therefore are less likely to be eligible for EI and EI funded training.
  • Employment agencies serving rural clients report a lack of jobs paying above minimum wage.
  • Childcare and travel costs are significant barriers to obtaining employment.1

Concerns of Rural Women

In 2010, women between the ages of 35 and 55 living in rural communities in the Kootenay region of British Columbia took part in a research study conducted by the author. Through focus groups and individual interviews these women expressed their concerns and hopes for a better future. The following words of research participants exemplify the concerns of working women in rural communities.

The Pink-Collar Ghetto

“And there just isn’t the choice in a rural community — like in a city there’s a place for everybody, there’s all different areas, from technological to physical and you don’t think twice about seeing a female carpenter or computer expert…  And here, in a small town like ours, you can be a teacher, you can be a nurse, you can be a waitress, you can run your flower business. It’s same-old, same-old pink ghetto.” – Lynette

Need for Community Support Systems

“Without women in the community? Well, I wouldn’t know it. It wouldn’t be a community at all. There’d be no relationships.” – Martha

Fears for the Future

“The loss of the MD because everybody needs their health issues addressed at one time or the other…the driving for everything that you need to be taken care of…then the closing down of the mill…so loss of jobs, a very jittery kind of situation within the logging community… fear that we might be on the verge of becoming a ghost town.” – Susan

Hopes for the Future

In a brainstorming session with participants, women identified hope as situated in two areas.


  • Individuals must have a strong sense of determination.
  • People must have hope about the future of their community.
  • A spirit of support and cooperation needs to be nourished.
  • Community members must be strongly attached to their community.


  • Ownership of businesses needs to be kept local and independent.
  • Diversity of employment opportunities is essential.
  • Community needs to be open to finding resources such as skills and financial aid from outside.
  • Focus more on alternative ways of earning a living — think outside the box.

How Can Career Practitioners Assist?

Communities need support in the areas of:

  • entrepreneur support services
  • self-employment strategies
  • entrepreneurial network facilitation

Communities need support in carrying out needs assessments and feasibility studies in the following areas:

  • community-owned venture development
  • co-operative employment partnership
  • non-profit enterprise development
  • outside entrepreneurial recruitment
  • worker-ownership

Women are often overlooked contributors to local economies and sometimes find it difficult to sustain their efforts. With our support they can play a key role in the revitalization of rural areas.


1 “Rural Women: Employment Facts from ACTEW and Rural Women Making Change Research Alliance”, A Commitment to Training and Employment for Women (ACTEW), 2008.


Blythe Shepard is a Counsellor Educator at the University of Lethbridge. Until 15 years ago, she lived in rural communities working as an organic farmer, a milker of cows, an elementary teacher in a rural school, and later as a mental health worker. See for her research on rural issues.

Blythe Shepard
Blythe Shepard, PhD, is a professor in counselling psychology at the University of Lethbridge. Her research is focused on life-career development and counselling including rural youth transitions and rural women’s career paths. She is currently Past-President of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) and continues to advocate for the counselling field

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