Northern women: Tough enough

January 31, 2005

When it comes to handling isolation, limited resources and unending months of bitter cold, it really is a case of mind over matter, as women living in the frozen North already know. A study done by a University of Alberta PhD student shows that women living in isolated Northern settings teach themselves--and each other--how to be hardy and resilient, as a way to safeguard their health.

"Taking a positive attitude gave women hope and encouragement to carry on in difficult circumstances," said Dr. Beverly Leipert, who conducted the research to earn her doctorate in Nursing at the University of Alberta. Results of the study are published in the January issue of Qualitative Health Research.

Leipert interviewed 25 women of diverse ages and backgrounds living in northern British Columbia, and discovered that, while their mental and physical health was vulnerable to risks posed by wildlife, pollution, gender attitudes, limited resources and of course, climate, they learn to cope through three major strategies: becoming hardy, making the best of the North and supplementing the North.

This involved a wide variety of actions on the part of the women, including learning to become self-reliant, following spiritual beliefs, adopting outdoor activities of skiing, fishing and camping, moving indoors to paint and quilt, volunteering on community councils and with other groups, and advocating for themselves and their communities. They also sought social support from one another, even though women-only gatherings were seen as threatening in some communities.

"Developing resilience, which is central to Northern women's health, involves developing new strategies and enhancing existing ones that are both behavioral and psychological in nature," Dr. Leipert said.

The nature of resilience and the degree to which Northern women develop it is influenced by factors such as women's economic circumstances, how isolated they are, their state of health and their needs, the resources available to them, and their educational and cultural backgrounds, Dr. Leipert noted.

The study also showed that some of the needs arising from these factors are beyond the woman's capacity to address. "It is important that society and governments provide adequate resources to support the efforts and health of women in Northern and other isolated settings," Dr. Leipert said.
The study's findings will help friends, families, health-care givers, policymakers and the women themselves, to understand and address risks to the well-being of rural women, Leipert said.

For more information on this study contact:

Bev Betkowski
Public Affairs Officer
University of Alberta

University of Alberta

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