Focus on inner-city women

February 19, 2004, vol.29, no.4
By Marianne Meadahl

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A study of the health of women residents at a new downtown eastside housing complex has spawned two projects that are turning attention to the plight of inner-city women.

The Health and Home research project, led by anthropologist Dara Culhane, interviewed more than 100 women living in Downtown Eastside Vancouver over the course of two years. Some of those interviewed during the course of the study, moved into a new housing facility established in 2000 by Vancouver's Bridge housing society.

A film called Building Bridge: a Housing Project for Women, traces the 20-year planning and building of the complex and looks at its impact through the eyes of women who coordinated the development of the project, as well as some who are now living there.

“It became an opportunity for women to have a voice and a role in documenting the impact of this project,” says director and producer Jackie Levitin, an associate professor in women's studies and the school for the contemporary arts. The film premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October and at the Amsterdam International documentary market in December. Levitin says the showings have raised international interest in the plight of inner-city women's housing needs.

This fall Talon Books is publishing a book of stories told by women living in the area. The book, called In Plain Sight: Reflections on Daily Life in the Downtown Eastside, is co-edited by Culhane and Leslie Robertson, who completed her doctorate in anthropology at UBC and did her bachelor's degree at SFU.

In the case of the film, SFU has waived the royalties so that profits can be used to help fund future housing needs. Royalties from the sale of the book will be divided among the women who contributed their stories to it.

“It sets a worthwhile precedent,” says Culhane, who secured a $683,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council strategic grant in 1999 to do the study. The results will be featured in a series of community reports and an edited volume of papers that will be available this summer.

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