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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
February 21, 2017
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WLU Press releases book based on Laurier professor’s study of single mothers

Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing

Apr 15/14

Wednesday, April 16 is Equal Pay Day in Ontario. Although pay equity is the law, women earn, on average, 31 per cent less than men, or 65 cents on a male dollar. According to Laurier Professor Lea Caragata, Faculty of Social Work, this inequity is only one of many factors that work to marginalize women. In spite of welfare reform, lone mothers are more likely to remain on social assistance than just about any other group. The two issues are not unrelated, as women’s low-waged work makes poverty harder to escape.

These issues are part of Not the Whole Story: Challenging the Single Mother Narrative (WLU Press), a new book by Caragata that unravels the complex ways the lives of so many single mothers unfold. It contains 16 first-person accounts narrated by single mothers in their own way and about their lives. Although each story is unique, the same issues—challenges in the labour market, childcare, struggles with custody, abuse, poverty, mental health, addictions and immigration—appear again and again, demonstrating that the difficulties these women face are much more than individual issues; they need to be addressed in public policy.

“How do single mothers break the cycle of poverty and what got them there in the first place? What are the barriers they face and how can we assist in breaking them down? How do they maintain hope as they try desperately to put food on the table at the end of the month?” said Olivia Chow, former Toronto city councillor and Member of Parliament, in a review of the book. “The real-life experiences of these tough, resilient, and resourceful mothers provide a road map and inspiration to reform our social and financial policies. Read their stories, and then work for change.”

The book is a culmination of a pilot project in which a group of women came together with a facilitator to “explore and develop their own competencies and expand their sense of agency,” says Caragata. The facilitator was co-editor Judit Alcalde, a graduate of the Community Psychology program at Laurier, who worked closely with the women over a two-year period, during which the group developed into a self-help/support group that became very important in the lives of the participants.

The project was a spinoff from Caragata’s multi-year, SSHRC-funded Lone Mothers: Building Social Inclusion research project, which explored a range of factors through the lens of social inclusion/exclusion. Telling “the whole story” refers to bringing to light the issues that shape the lives of single mothers. The book’s intent is to challenge a negative discourse that continues to marginalize single mothers—in terms of opportunities in their own lives and in terms of how they are understood by other Canadians.

Despite their difficult circumstances, the women in this book are resourceful, resilient, and ultimately hopeful that telling their stories will make a difference.

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