Sistering, in downtown Toronto, is another organization that has chosen to add an economic dimension to its work in women's health and safety. It has done so not just for financial purposes, but as a therapeutic experiment. Community economic development looks like a wise idea. Still, given the confusion of public opinion and policy over mental illness, addiction, self-employment, and the sex trade, can CED be made to serve Sistering's constituents?
"New as we are to CED practice, we at Sistering need to pause and reflect on the purpose of our employment initiatives, and the purpose of CED in general. When we adopted a CED approach, self-employment and a modified 'sustainable livelihood' was our goal. We were very conscious however of the prevailing perspective and goal of many CED initiatives: that the ultimate measure of our success would be the number of women who, with our help, became able to support themselves wholly on the basis of the money they earned, rather than money from government, family, or friends. Due to increased employability, self-esteem, confidence, and supportive networks, they would be expected to become 'economically independent.' Otherwise, the project would be viewed as a failure and the participants deemed 'not ready' for economic enterprise.
"This is a challenging goal for people whose lives are not complicated by chronic poverty, histories of poor physical and mental health, trauma, and addictions. Yet, many CED programs targeted at the 'marginalized' carry an unwritten expectation that success means achieving them. Who sets those expectations and why?"