Monday, December 9, 2013

Recognizing and Developing Young Mothers’ Leadership Capacity Through Participatory Research

During graduate school, I taught in an interdisciplinary leadership program full of inspiring and interesting students, all of whom were used to being identified as ‘leaders’. As an undergraduate student, I was the Executive Vice-President of my university students’ union. Before that, I was on my high school student council, I ran leadership camps for other students, and I was often the ‘go-to’ student when a teacher needed someone to take on a project. I was, by all standard accounts, a young leader.

Adults and young people alike treated me like a leader, told me that I was a leader, and believed that I had leadership skills. I was often involved in decisions that affected me. As a result, I too believed that my voice mattered, so when my voice wasn’t invited, I had no problem offering it.

“Is this for real”? Participatory Research, Intersectionality, and the Development of Leader and Collective Efficacy with Young Mothers, is about a different leadership story. It’s the story of the recognition and development of leadership capacity with young people – young mothers to be precise – who are rarely, if ever, thought of as leaders (or citizens).
Over 10 months, I worked with a group of 11 young mothers who were simultaneously raising children, completing high school, and managing complex personal living situations. They were also becoming, through the youth participatory action research (Y-PAR) project I present in this article, community researchers. In turn, they made recommendations about provincial level child protection policy, from the perspective of young parents living in one province in Eastern Canada.

In “Is this for real”?, I describe our Y-PAR process, and highlight the benefit of intersectionality as a theoretical orientation to research with young mothers. I also struggle with the challenge of inviting historically marginalized youth (in this case, young mothers) to invest their time and energy into Y-PAR, and into creating recommendations that all too often fall on deaf ears. I offer some modest suggestions for making Y-PAR’s societal impact more “real” for participants, and for policy. It is not the ‘typical’ story of youth leadership, or of young mothers, but it is a story worth telling. Young mothers, not in spite of, but because of, their identities and experiences, should be thought of as leaders and citizens with expertise to share.      

What do you think about young mothers’ involvement in participatory research? In policy-making? How can we further expand the way we think and talk about youth leadership?
I welcome your thoughts on comments below.

LLevac atsign uofguelph dot ca

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