The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Win for women is the biggest issue here

Posted by hannahcolman on March 26, 2010

Great news over on The Big Issue website – the magazine has received $1.2 million to assist homeless and marginalised women.

Homeless women across the country will be given the opportunity to gain financial independence and take control of their lives thanks to an announcement made today by the Australian Government to grant The Big Issue $1.2million to address a critical social need in Australia; employment opportunities for homeless and disadvantaged women.

The Women’s Subscriptions Enterprise will initially employ 90 disadvantaged women and six professional staff through a model selling subscriptions to The Big Issue magazine, a long standing and quality product that currently reaches more than 130 000 Australians each fortnight.

I’m a huge fan of The Big Issue for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the magazine always features a range of interesting articles that address social justice issues, and generally the writing is a lot more balanced than what you find in the daily newspapers. But the most satisfying thing about buying The Big Issue is understanding the benefits to the vendors, beyond the fact that the vendor receives half of the $5.00 sale price for each unit they sell. From The Big Issue’s website

Findings from our research indicate that selling The Big Issue Magazine has a positive impact on Vendors’ lives. The impact is felt in a number of areas including:

– Social connections, skills and opportunities to engage with the ‘mainstream’ public through selling The Big Issue Magazine.

– Improve and enhanced health; which includes nutrition, general physical health, decreased and less problematic substance use and improvements in emotional wellbeing as a result of being engaged in meaningful activity.

– Improved housing and accommodation experiences, including a decrease in primary homelessness.

– Enhanced personal factors such as confidence and self worth through enacting the valued role of being a Vendor.

– Improved quality of life by being able to afford non-necessity items and engage in regular citizenship activities within contemporary Australian society.

I have been working in the city for the past couple of years and have only ever been sold The Big Issue by male vendors. I actually bought the magazine from a woman for the first time a couple of weeks ago – in Smith Street, Collingwood. I think many people assume that homelessness is primarily experienced by males and perhaps the lack of women selling the magazine means that people subconsciously believe this. But the reality is quite different.

I found these statistics under the Homelessness tab on The Big Issue’s website.

  • There are more young women that are homeless than young men.
  • One in every 50 young women aged 18–19 will stay in a homelessness assistance service this year.

According to Natalie Susman, head of the Women’s Subscription Enterprise for The Big Issue, women make up 40% of those sleeping rough or in non-secure housing.

“The largest single cause of homelessness in Australia is domestic and family violence, which overwhelmingly affects women and children,” Ms Susman said.

“What we are doing is providing these women with safe and secure employment, training and pathway opportunities, giving them financial independence and ultimately allowing them to change their lives and have control over their futures.”

The Women’s Subscriptions Enterprise is entirely scalable – as subscriptions are sold, revenue is directed straight into the pockets of disadvantaged women, through provision of wages, training, mentoring and support.

“The enterprise is financially sustainable and totally viable after the start up phase through ongoing subscription sales,” Ms Susman concluded.

It is great to know that this funding will help to turn around the lives of many Australian women who are experiencing homelessness or other disadvantage.

(NB: The Age covered the story here)


3 Responses to “Win for women is the biggest issue here”

  1. Kelly said

    Is there any reason that there needs to be a specific initiative for this? Why was the Big Issue not hiring representative amounts of female vendors before? I’m confused — this doesn’t look too great for them, as it appears here.

    Also: is there a listing of Sydney-based feminist groups available? Sorry if I’m being ignorant but I had trouble finding groups and meeting times via the website. I do love the commentary though, keep it up!

  2. hannahcolman said

    Kelly, from the article:

    The Big Issue’s CEO Steven Persson said The Big Issue has been operating in Australia since 1996 and has successfully worked in helping thousands of homeless and disadvantaged Australians to help themselves.

    “With the Street Magazine Enterprise showing remarkable outcomes over the past 14 years, predominantly for men, we recognised nearly three years ago that we needed to also establish a viable and sustainable social enterprise for women,” Mr Persson said.

    “Since that time we have conducted an extensive feasibility study reviewing what work opportunities best meet needs of homeless and disadvantaged women and it brings us great pleasure to now see years of hard work come to fruition thanks to the support of the Australian Government.”

    I’ve just added a link to The Age’s coverage of the story at the end of my post. It details one particular woman’s experience of selling the magazines on the streets and feeling unsafe.

    Not sure about Sydney-based feminist groups! I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

  3. dihstawrtid said

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female vendor up here in Brisbane either. If they exist, they are incredibly disproportionate to the men.

    It never ceases to amaze me how most people simply pretend that they can’t see the vendor. Is it ignorance? Fear of the unknown? Are they concerned that they will get dirty or contract homelessness if they acknowledge the vendor? In my experience, the vendors are an amazing group of people who have experienced the highs and lows of human existence. They can give you a very unique, first hand view of how life for some in this first world country of ours really is.

    I have no issue with assisting those in need regardless of their situation or location, but I really struggle for a legitimate reason as to why so much assistance money is sent offshore while we have such a problem with homelessness, mental illness and drug/substance abuse in our own backyard.

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