The 27th Annual Margaret Laurence Lecture: Dr. Pat Armstrong

Dr. Pat Armstrong speaks at Traill College on March 7, 2019. Photo by Sarah Cockins.

On March 7, the 27th Annual Margaret Laurence Lecture welcomed Dr. Pat Armstrong to speak on The Charlottetown Declaration on the Right to Care. The event took place in Bagnani Hall at Traill College. The lecture takes place annually to honour Margaret Laurence, Trent’s fourth chancellor from Lakefield. It acknowledges her contributions to literature, feminism, ecology, and the peace movement.

Dr. Pat Armstrong is a professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at York University. Armstrong is a Distinguished Research Professor in Sociology and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, focusing on equity in the fields of social policy regarding women, work and, the health and social services. She is cited as an author or editor on over 25 books.

Approximately 30 people attended the event, which ran from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., followed by a reception after the lecture. The Director of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS), Sally Chivers, introduced Dr. Armstrong. Dr. Armstrong discussed important issues surrounding home care, particularly how it is seen as a women’s issue. Laurence’s 1964 well-known book, The Stone Angel, was discussed because of its related themes of social class, prejudice, and struggle within nursing homes. Dr. Armstrong continued to discuss how home care is essentially unpaid labour, with caregivers being given fewer resources to perform the care that is required. Both caregivers and patients often end up in poor health, and are exposed to abuse and violence within the home.

“The right to care is a fundamental human right,” Dr. Armstrong said. “[We need to] move beyond equality to equity.” She reasoned that it should not be assumed that women are able to or necessarily want to provide care; they should not be held to this expectation within society. “A labour of love is still labour,” someone once told Dr. Armstrong during a phone call.

Dr. Armstrong gave a detailed history on The Charlottetown Declaration on the Right to Care, which began in November 2001 with 55 experts from the academic, policy, and caregiver communities discussing research and policy on women and home care. According to the Declaration, “Canadian society has a collective responsibility to ensure universal entitlement to public care throughout life without discrimination as to gender, ability, age, physical location, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and family status or ethno-cultural origin.” Based on experiences and research from the academic, policy, and caregiver communities, it was found that women are the majority of those who receive and provide care. Women are also expected to provide the more demanding care, work longer hours, have more responsibility, and their lives are more disrupted by caregiving than men’s lives.

Dr. Armstrong ended the lecture with firm determination, stating that “women’s work is never done.”

Following a generous round of applause, the audience was invited to a Q&A session. The audience engaged critically and with passion, offering insight on current social structures and policies on care. They directed critical questions towards Dr. Armstrong, challenging her expertise. Throughout her responses, Dr. Armstrong emphasized that there need to be alternatives to home care, as many people are unable to provide twenty-four-hour care. Dr. Armstrong explored the need to taking an intersectional approach, focusing on the impact of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other intersectional aspects of identity on care. Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of community and moving forward as a collective.