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Women's Self-Employment Programs

"Visible minority [and immigrant] women face a double burden of racism and sexism, which prevent them from attaining full participation in Canadian society. In the case of immigrant women, many suffer from additional problems such as language barriers and isolation. Their inability to speak an official language gives them little chance of finding satisfactory employment or defending their rights in the work place."

Status of Women Canada, 2000

A lack of employment opportunities is one of the most significant problems facing immigrant and minority women in Metropolitan Toronto. The current direction of government policy to cut training programs and social assistance emphasizes the need to increase the employability of this vulnerable population. With a lack of training, and, in the case of immigrant women, limited language skills, pressure is placed on these women who compete for jobs with more qualified candidates.

No doubt, this is one of the main reasons why immigrant and minority women are increasingly pursuing self-employment as a viable alternative to traditional employment. Once again, however, these women are confronted with multiple barriers: lack of access to relevant information; difficulties in obtaining financial resources; disproportionate familial responsibilities; disenfranchisement and isolation; racism and bigotry; and the erosion of their self-worth.

In response to this situation, and as part of COSTI's ongoing commitment to providing individuals with access to training and employment opportunities, COSTI has developed a number of self-employment initiatives including the Business Development Program ("Yes I Can") and the Home Childcare Training Program. These programs provide opportunities for immigrant and minority women to overcome their personal barriers, and to gain the skills and resources needed for self-employment, and, ultimately, economic and social independence and an enhanced quality of life for the women and their families.

YES I CAN
The Women's Business Development Program

"Arriving in Canada with her three children in 1996, Mary had no money, and spoke very little English. Sweeping the floor at a hair salon in order to earn a living, Mary eventually learned about the 'Yes I Can' Program, seeing it as an opportunity to escape her desperate situation. After completing a series of self-employment workshops, and through the ongoing support of COSTI's Business Development staff,

Mary was able to establish her own business - a hair salon that today employs ten people and has over 500 customers. Mary credits the 'Yes I Can' Program for helping her to realize her dreams and goals of becoming self-employed."

The 'Yes I Can' Program's guiding principle is to assist low income, immigrant and refugee women, who face multiple barriers by providing them with self-employment training, tools and support, thus creating the foundation for their social and economic independence.

Understanding the basics of starting and surviving in your own business without the guidance and support required can be a strong deterrent. It is important that the individual recognize personal strengths and limitations and thoroughly plan each stage of the new business. Having confidence in oneself is fundamental to successful self-employment. Training must therefore integrate confidence building with skill acquisition, and there must be as strong an emphasis on personal development as there is on business development.

The program aims to bridge the gap for entrepreneurial women who are interested in, but might not otherwise have the opportunity of, starting their own businesses by leading them through a step-by-step process, from the development of the business idea to the establishment of the actual business. The 'Yes I Can' Business Development Program is designed for individuals who are willing to make a commitment to their business ideas, dedicate their time to learning, and establish a plan of action for the future.

Home Childcare Training Program

"Amina is a single mother with five children whose husband left her just after they arrived in Canada. Alone and in a strange, new country, she was scared and unsure of how she would support herself and her children. With the help of COSTI, she has established her own home childcare business, and has regained her confidence and optimism for a better life for her and her children."

With limited language skills, and a lack of training and experience, immigrant women face formidable barriers to employment. They also face a lack of affordable childcare, fear of entering college or university programs, and an absence of social supports. Further restraints such as cultural backgrounds and beliefs that dictate and restrict the role of women within the family structure has meant that many women have had to rely on welfare and other government supports in order to survive.

Reliance on social assistance programs, however, is not a viable solution. The current direction of government policy to cut training programs and social assistance only emphasizes the need to increase the employability of this vulnerable population.

Under increasing pressure to find work, yet facing multiple barriers, many immigrant women are considering the option of utilizing their own homes to provide day care for young children. Becoming a home childcare provider, however, takes more than just experience in child rearing. It demands a unique combination of childcare and business skills.

The goal of the Home Childcare Training Program is to increase the number of immigrant women who have the basic skills and resources to become self-employed childcare providers. As the majority of immigrant women do not have families or friends to support their training or employment options, this program provides a safe and comfortable space where they are empowered by developing the abilities and confidence necessary to pursue the establishment of their own home-based businesses.

Many of the publicly funded employment and self-employment programs that exist in the community have very restrictive and selective admission requirements. Many of these same programs are "mainstream", and intimidate and exclude immigrant and minority women. As such, the Home Childcare Training Program offers an accessible alternative that is not restrictive to low income and immigrant women, and that is designed to meet their needs and objectives. The Home Childcare Training Program provides a valuable option for women for whom multiple barriers present obstacles to success in the job market.