Friday, March 9, 2012

Kate's Story: A Perspective on International Women's Day

Kate Mandziak was born January 9, 1914 in Canada to Ukrainian immigrants. Her mother died in 1918 from the Spanish Flu leaving 3 children. Kate's father remarried. They had 17 more children in total (one deceased).  Kate married my grandfather, Mike Dribnenky when she was 22. They and their four children lived in a Soddy, which consisted of a kitchen and a room where the family slept. The floor was wood and the walls were white washed, remembers my mother.

Today is the 101st anniversary of International Women's Day.  On this day, we reflect on the journey that women have been travelling and recognize the women of our lives.  This year's focus is "Empowering rural women to end hunger and poverty".

Kate Dribnenky was my grandmother. She was a farmer, a pioneer, and a mother of four. She enjoyed reading. She possessed a keen insight into human nature, the way things were, and why, remembers my aunt. 

She cooked 3 meals a day, worked the fields, tended to the animals, and managed the household, all without running water or indoor plumbing. She cooked on a wood stove until about 1973.  

She used a wash board and a clothes line.  My mother remembers in the winter she would wash the clothes and hang them out on the line. Then she would bring the frozen clothes back into the house to thaw. Eventually she got a wringer washer.

In the pioneering days, life was tough and beyond what many of us can imagine. The family slept in one room, heated by a pot belly stove. It was so cold water would freeze overnight. Their house was miles away from services.  Communication was non-existent with the outside world, and transportation was time consuming. 

The family built a new house in the 1950s, which had a full basement with a wood furnace. There was no plumbing or septic system, however. They got power in the early 1960s. 
Through my childhood, my brother, sister and I would visit the farm, spending our days playing make believe games, gathering eggs, feeding the pigs and helping with the harvest. To us, it was fun, not work.  We knew by comparison to our city life that her life was difficult and that she worked hard.

Kate passed away at 59 as a result of a fire at the farm. While this memory of her life is very painful to this day, it is important to reflect on the life that she lived, and how her tenacity, grace and perseverance created the foundation for our family of women.

To this day, I remember her smile and the sound of her laughter when I listen for it.  When I am avoiding something, I remember her telling me, "Lynn, sometimes you just have to do the dishes".


When I think about her life and that of women today, there are major differences in infrastructure and technology. But women are still fighting poverty, lack of  education and influence over themselves. We continue to be voiceless at policy level. 

Poverty among women is practically institutionalized and well accepted, it seems.  The feminization of poverty is a concept that describes a situation where the number of women in poverty is increasing at a much faster rate than for men, so that poor people are disproportionately female.

Here are some statistics:  
  • Single mothers: 51.6% of lone parent families headed by women live in poverty.
  • 41.5% of single, widowed or divorced women over 65 live in poverty.
  • 35% of women on their own under 65 live in poverty.
  • 44% of Aboriginal women living off reserve, and 47% of Aboriginal women living on-reserve live in poverty.
  • The average annual income for Aboriginal women is $13,300, compared with $18,200 for Aboriginal men and $19,350 for non-Aboriginal women.  
  • New immigrant women between 25-44 years old who have a university degree and work full-time earn $14,000 less than Canadian-born women. 
Poverty and Violence goes hand in hand, according to Amnesty International:  
  • Violence keeps women poor, and poor women are most exposed to violence.  Women who suffer from violence lose income and their capacity to earn a wage is impaired.
  • Being poor may make women make difficult choices which puts them or keeps them at risk from violence. A woman who is economically dependent on her abusive partner may see no way to support herself and her children if she leaves. 
  • Access to education is a key driver in poverty and abuse. A girl who becomes pregnant as a result of a rape may find herself excluded from school, with fewer prospects of finding safe work and an independent future.
From 1914 to 2012, the question is what has changed?  Women continue to be facing poverty, isolation and voicelessness at alarming rates.   We continue to be under-represented in positions of leadership and policy making where change begins.  Perhaps that is where we need to begin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you ,Lynn for this beautiful tribute to my Beloved Mother and your Beloved Grandmother.Yes,the tears are flowing as I read the blog as they always do every time I think of my Mom,which is almost daily.She has left such a beautiful legacy for all of us.