Women – the last line of defence against poverty

In this extract from a training session in 1962, Father Joseph Wresinski invites the volunteers working at the camp in Noisy le Grand to investigate the mother’s fight for survival in the face of devastating poverty. He explains why the work undertaken with the families at the camp is primarily targeted to support the women in their daily struggle

Why did we begin our work with women?  I believe that the woman is the lynch-pin that remains when the family has sunk into poverty.  Faced with such misery, only women are capable of carrying on. Men are overwhelmed and cave in but if the woman keeps her head above water, she will always keep the family together.  I have witnessed this throughout my life. You may not see things the way I do, but this has been my experience.  Women have a kind of inner strength that remains, whatever happens.  There is not a single mother here who has not endured unimaginable hardships. We could write a book about each one of them.  I want to draw your attention to the fact that their appearance and behaviour are, nonetheless, quite extraordinary.  They are proud and for those with a keen eye for detail, outstanding. Consider Mrs H. Her husband hasn’t had a job for a very long time, she’s the one who leaves home every morning at 5:00 a.m. to work in the factory.  She comes home in the evening at 7:00 p.m.   She does all of this because she has a son.  She puts up with it all because she has a child.

Let us be clear that women are not the remedy to poverty; they do not hold the solution in their hands.  They are the last line of defence against poverty, which is a completely different thing. They are the lynch-pin of resistance against poverty.  If they gain the upper hand, the family can stay afloat.  They cannot change men, but the family will change and breathe again.  This is not a solution to poverty, but it is an answer to the plea of families to live with dignity. Our action is also a way of recognising and standing up for their dignity.

Poster created in 1975 by Jeanpierre Beyeler from ATD Fourth World, for the International Women’s Year. The text refers to the famous speech by Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist born into slavery, at the Convention on the Rights of Women in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.







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