Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX doctoral student’s research aims to help older women reclaim a presence in the community

November 21st, 2019
Kelly O'Neil

Helping older women reclaim a presence in the community and in society is the aim of research undertaken by Kelly O’Neil, a StFX PhD student, who plans to focus her studies on older women becoming agents of change through a community radio project. 

Ms. O’Neil, of Halifax, NS, is in her first year of the Nova Scotia Inter-University Doctoral Program in Educational Studies and is supervised by StFX adult education professor Dr. Carole Roy. 

Already, her work is having impact. On Nov. 18, CBC’s Information Morning interviewed Ms. O’Neil on her master’s thesis, which focused on older women and housing insecurity in Halifax. 

One of the key findings in that research and something that carries over into her upcoming project is the feeling of older women feeling invisible, she says. 

“Throughout this research, I heard about a strong sense of imposed invisibility, that their value is no longer seen and it’s perceived they don’t have a lot to offer,” says Ms. O’Neil who received the best thesis award while completing her master’s in family studies and gerontology at Mount Saint Vincent University under supervisor Dr. Janice Keefe, and co-supervised by Dr. Katie Aubrecht at StFX. 

With a background in community work and a degree in social work, Ms. O’Neil says she has worked with people in poverty previously and has seen how people are marginalized with no social or political power or presence. Add in the fact of being older, and also as a woman, and it can present a particular set of barriers. 

An older woman herself, she says it is a group too that isn’t always represented in research. 

Ms. O’Neil says for her PhD research she was thinking about ways that women can challenge and resist that, and how they can use this invisibility to become an instrument of power. She wanted to create an avenue where the women would be given a voice—the opportunity to speak for themselves. 

“The community needs to the be spokesperson for the community,” she says. 

“The project, as I envision it, is for older women, aged 55 and up, who are economically marginalized and living within the Halifax Regional Municipality, to come together to train as citizen journalists.” 

She says she’d like to develop a radio podcast program, something ideally that would continue after the research is complete. 

Ms. O’Neil, who is currently completing course work and a literature review, notes she is still about a year away from starting the research. 

It’s a topic of research already gaining traction. Her master’s work—which included an illustrated infographic summarizing key findings of her thesis in a visual way—not only drew media attention, she also sent the infographic to a number of stakeholders including various elected officials. She was subsequently invited by some MLAs to talk about her research and its implications. 

“The key for me is that it (the information) is accessible, interesting and in the community. Whatever I do, it belongs in the community, that’s really important for me.”

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