In the field of intersectionality, much of the research focuses on the analysis of race, class and gender as marginalizing factors. These factors are seen at in institutionalized ways and many analyses seek to demonstrate how welfare reform policies do not address these fundamental inequalities. It is noted that women can suffer from a double bind due to welfare reforms. The lasting effects of racism and the lack of attention paid to gender inequalities (ie. “family gap”) in women’s employment income, leaves an inherent vulnerability to the perpetuation of discrimination in employment, income, and family violence (Lindhorst and Mancoske, 2003).
Research over the past ten years has documented the disproportionate impact of domestic violence on low-income families, which demonstrates that domestic violence can interfere in women’s ability to comply with welfare policy requirements, affect their work participation, and serve as a significant barrier to their economic advancement. Recent ethnographic work suggests that because neoliberal policies ignore the social and family networks in which low-income women are embedded and the economic realities that bind them, policies intended to foster self-sufficiency (e.g., work requirements) and/or promote private rather than state dependency for low-income women (e.g., marriage promotion) may become instead sources of increased marginalization and vulnerability to abuse (Purvin, 2007). Aboriginal women suffer death rates twice as high as any other group of women in this country due to domestic violence. Some scholars assert that it has been through sexual violence and through the imposition of European gender relationships on Native communities that Europeans were able to colonize Native peoples in the first place. Therefore Aboriginal feminists argue it is necessary to dismantle patriarchal systems to be entirely decolonized (Smith, 2005). Some scholars recognize that Aboriginal low-income and working class women continue to endue greater struggle against the legacies of colonialism, racism, sexism, and poverty (Naples and Dobson, 2001).
Many authors have analyzed the ways in which gender and race intersected in Canada’s historic policy formation in regards to Aboriginals. They have found that the Church and State viewed personal autonomy of women as a major threat to the Christian patriarchal order they intended to impose during colonization. Aboriginal women’s sexual autonomy and right to divorce was violated by the Indian Act of 1876 as an imposition of Judeo-Christian European values and standards. Until the turn of the century, women had to prove bestiality and adultery to get a divorce, whereas men only had to prove adultery. Also, illegitimate children were not included in the mother’s band without special permission. Women were also not legally eligible to own land, and it was divided for nuclear family use, which did not adhere to Aboriginal traditions. Mothers came under the care of children when their husbands died, which undermined their traditional roles. Essentially, colonialism imposed male dominated elective systems of government, which undermined traditional tribal systems and women not allowed to participate in the new forms of government until 1951 (McGrath and Stevenson, 1996).Order now
Another intersectional approach analyzes the public opinion of welfare recipients. Analyses of the Welfare Queen as a public identity assert “it is used to justify class-based sexist and racist assumptions about the presumed behavior and moral failures of welfare mothers” (Foster, 2008; 164). Politicians and policymakers created this identity to invoke vilification and disgust in the public and justify supervisory and punitive approaches to welfare policy reform in the United States. These attitudes result in poor, black single mothers being blamed for their own poverty and is accompanied by the implications of being sexually immoral, promiscuous, irresponsible, poor work ethic and lazy. These stereotypes create antipathy towards spending on welfare and are also linked to conceptions of “undeserving poor”. Lastly, using gender neutral language (‘poor families’, ‘poor people’, ‘welfare recipients’) covers up ‘welfare mothers’ or ‘single mothers’ which can reflect the ways in which marriage and motherhood push women in and out of poverty (Hayden Foster, 2008). While this study was done in the United States and pertained primarily to African-American women, based on my own personal experience these attitudes are similar in Canada towards Aboriginal persons.
Studies done in regards to colonialism and social welfare are not uncommon, however most works refer to third world countries, and tend not to focus on developed, first world or Global North countries. Some authors argue that colonialism was good for “spreading free market capitalism, parliamentary institutions of democracy, communication, Western education and literacy, principles of minimal government and the rule of law”, and generally enhanced global welfare (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011: 19). Views like these, however, have been criticized for ignoring violence, death, spread of disease and slavery, and the benefits that were enjoyed were done so by a select few (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011).
The basic ideologies of colonialism were to “spread notions of betterment, improvement, progress, prosperity, civilization, protecting the weak and modernization (based on Christian religion and ethics) where there was perceived to be savagery, chaos, despotism, poverty and slavery” (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011: 26). Colonial rule tended to normalize violence for a greater good and racism, which produced limitations on welfarist impulses because “some people were viewed as so far down the human hierarchy as to be beyond help. Welfare even became part of the new landscape of demarcated racial inferiority or superiority, as the reconstruction of whiteness included a view of Europeans as capable of charity, altruism, and welfare” (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011: 28). Converting Aboriginal peoples to become Christian was another form of welfare imperialism, and a major project of colonialism. The legacy of colonialism is of massive significance when understanding social welfare. One need also look at the connections of gender and imperialism as it is generally considered a masculine affair and the ‘virgin territories’ that were ‘conquered’ feminized the Aboriginal peoples (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011).
Various social welfare policies were formulated based on colonialist, imperialist, racist, and sexist ideals. Social welfare policy is defined as the “strategy of action indicating the means and methods adopted to implement the social welfare services. Social welfare services include programmes which are intended to cater to the needs of persons and groups who, by reason of some handicap – social, economic, physical – are unable to avail of or are traditionally denied the amenities and services provided by the community” (Dubey, 1973: 640). In terms of Aboriginal welfare policies, they tend to homogenize the population with racist implications. This stems from the attitudes of non-Aboriginal bureaucrats who subscribed to the dominant ideologies of mainstreaming and assimilation that may have remained hidden without an Aboriginal presence and situated critique (Naples and Dobson, 2001).
Historically, no definition of “Indian” was needed, as all First Nations were lumped into one group even though there were more than fifty languages. The Department of Northern Affairs used to keep a list of who was included in the group “Indian” and assimilation policies provided First Nations peoples with the means to off the list, but not back on. Many people were denied Indian status on the basis of not being Indian enough (less than 25%). Yet being labeled as Indian was not to determine whom the government should give particular rights to, rather it acted as a target for assimilation policies (Armitage, 2011: 86). It was thought that with all the pressure assimilation might have been achieved via the child welfare system if not for Canadian mainstream racist attitudes toward visibly First Nations people (Midgley and Piachaud, 2011).
Armitage, Andrew (2011). Comparing the Policy of Aboriginal Assimilation: Australia, Canada and New Zealand. UBC Press, British Columbia.
Atleo, Cliff (2012). “From Indigenous Nationhood to Neoliberal Aboriginal Economic Development: Charting the Evolution of Indigenous-Settler Relations in Canada.” Canadian Social Economy Hub: 1-35.
Brodie, Janine. “Putting Gender Back In: Women and Social Policy Reform in Canada,” in Y. Abu- Laban (Ed.), Gendering the Nation-State: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives. Washington, University of Washington Press.
Dubey, S.N. (1973) “Social Welfare Policy and Services: Some Issues.” Economic and Political Weekly 8 (13): 640-644.
Greenwood, Davydd J., William Foote Whyte and Ira Harkavy (1993). “Participatory Action Research as a Process and as a Goal.” Human Relations 46 (2): 175-192.
Hayden Foster, Carly (2008). “The Welfare Queen: Race, Gender, Class, and Public Opinion.” Race, Gender & Class 15 (3/4): 162-179.
Lindhorst, Taryn, Ron Mancoske (2003). “Race, Gender and Class Inequities in Welfare Reform.” Race, Gender & Class 10 (2): 27-40.
McGrath, Ann, Winona Stevenson (1996). “Gender, Race and Policy: Aboriginal Women and the State in Canada and Australia.” Labour/Le Travail 38: 37-53.
Midgley, James, David Piachaud (2011). Colonialism and Welfare: Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy. Boston, Massachusetts, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
Naples, Nancy A., Marnie Dobson (2001). “Feminists and the Welfare State: Aboriginal Health Care Workers and U.S. Community Workers of Color.” NWSA Journal 13 (3): 116-137.
Purvin, Diane M (2007). “At the Crossroads and in the Crosshairs: Social Welfare Policy and Low-Income Women’s Vulnerability to Domestic Violence.” Social Problems 54 (2): 188-210.
Sinha, Vandna, Anna Kozlowski (2013). “The Structure of Aboriginal Child Welfare in Canada.” The International Indigenous Policy Journal 4 (2): 1-21.
Smith, Andrea (2005). “Native American Feminism, Sovereignty, and Social Change.” Feminist Studies 31 (1): 116-132.
Brown, Irene, and Joya Misra (2003). “The Intersection of Gender and Race in the Labor Market.” Annual Review of Sociology 29: 487-513.
Hall, Ronald E (2012). “The Feminization of Social Welfare: Implications of Cultural Tradition vis-à-vis Male Victims of Domestic Violence.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 7: 7-32.
Harding, Robert (2009). “News Reporting on Aboriginal Child Welfare: Discourses of White Guilt, Reverse Racism, and Failed Policy.” Canadian Social Work Review 26 (1): 25-41.
Indian Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I‐5.
Manning, Corinne (2004). “’A Helping White Hand’: Assimilation, Welfare and Victoria’s Transitional Aboriginal Housing Policy.” Labour History 87: 193-208.