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Planning from the fringes: women’s organized action and community planning: a case study of the Nicola Valley Women in Action, Merritt, B.C. Griffith, Lisa Susanne


Women's community organizing for change has the potential to improve many aspects of women's lives, the lives of their families, and community members at large. Yet the role of women's organized action in shaping the social environment is not well understood and is rarely supported by the mainstream institutions of planning. In rural areas, women's contributions to community planning may be even less apparent given the voluntary nature of their work and the lack of sensitivity paid to women's particular needs. The purpose of this study is to contribute to contemporary planning thought by providing some insight in to why, to what extent, and how women successfully organize to meet their social needs in rural communities. Two themes are examined: (1) the motivating factors that led to the development of a women's planning rganization, the Nicola Valley Women in Action, (NVWIA) in Merritt, B.C., and; (2) the dynamic forces in this community that support and/or limit women's abilities to engage in gender-informed community planning. A literature review outlines the need for gender-sensitive approaches to planning and the potential of women's community organizing for change (feminist activism) to serve as a catalyst for gendersensitive planning praxis. To explore the experiences of a particular group of women engaged in community organizing from a feminist perspective, a case study of the NVWIA is described through a review of organizational material and interviews with members. The principal findings are: (1) there was a definite need for gender-sensitive planning to meet the social needs of women in Merritt; (2) factors such as the lack of gender-sensitivity in institutional planning, the existence of barriers to women's involvement, and the dearth of opportunities for women in Merritt to influence decision-making motivated the development of the NVWIA; (3) opportunities, including government incentive, municipal support, inter-agency co-operation, organizing skills and member initiative, enabled the NVWIA to successfully respond to women's needs; and (4) constraints, including the absence of funding, philosophical differences, anti-feminist sentiment, and limits to voluntary time, hinder the ability of the NVWIA to continue its efforts. The study highlights the value of supporting women's community organizing as a means of encouraging planning approaches in rural areas that are gender-sensitive. It concludes by identifying the implications for self-help and professional planners wishing to support women's organized action.

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