Our current featured article is by one of nursing’s prominent scholars advocating for social justice in nursing and health care – Adeline Falk-Rafael, PhD, RN, FAAN. For this article, she and her colleague Patricia A Bradley, PhD, MEd,RN report a critical contextual analysis of 6 issues of a magazine published by “Nurses for Social Responsibility” between 1992 and 1995. In the article, titled “Towards Justice in Health.”An Exemplar of Speaking Truth to Power, Drs. Falk-Rafael and Bradley bear witness to a voice that has been largely absent in the nursing literature, as well as providing evidence of a significant grassroots effort to seek social justice in nursing and health care. Visit the ANS web site today to download your no-cost copy of this article, and return here to add your comments, questions and responses to their article!
Dr. Falk-Rafael and Dr. Bradley have shared their perspectives on this work, and have also invited two of the nurses responsible for the magazine to also speak here to ANS readers!
From Adeline Falk-Rafael:
I had become aware of a group of nurses calling themselves the Nurses for Social Responsibility (NSR) in Toronto, Ontario in the mid-1990s while working on my doctoral dissertation. I had known some of the nurses both professionally and by reputation as their
advocacy activities for homeless persons often were reported in the media. Both Cathy Crowe
and Kathy Hardill have been guest speakers in my community health nursing course at York University and on one occasion several years ago, Cathy shared the 6 issues of the magazine this group had produced in the early 1990s, Toward Justice in Health (TJH). Her hope and mine was that they would serve as the focus for a textual or content analysis as a graduate student project. Although I was never able to interest a graduate student in this research, the opportunity finally presented itself for me to begin such an analysis. As I began the process, I realized that I needed a colleague with expertise first in selecting the most appropriate methodology for such a textual analysis and secondly in conducting the analysis. I am so grateful that Pat Bradley agreed to work on this project with me.
From the initial reading of the magazines, through the analysis and writing of the findings, I never cease to be amazed at the foresight and courage that a small group of nurses with a passion for social justice of which Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, Lavinia Dock, and other early nursing leaders would be proud. My hope is that this effort to make visible their efforts will inspire others similarly to advocate for transformative societal changes and reverse social injustices that result from public policies and social norms that privilege a few and disenfranchise so many.
From Patricia Bradley
I was not living in Ontario during the mid-1990s and was not aware of the Nurses for Social Responsibility (NSR). I was introduced to their history when Adeline Falk-Rafael graciously
invited me to be part of the analysis of the magazines. Through the process, and meaningful dialogue with Adeline, there was an opportunity to uncover the power and strength that resided in these nurses and to reveal the subsequent realm of possibilities when nurses gather together for a cause. The journey towards change is not always easy or easy to maintain. I wonder how many other silent nursing histories exist and what they can teach us about change and the momentum of change for social justice. These invisible nursing histories need to be brought into the light so we can all learn and be inspired.
We’ve invited 2 of the original founders of TJH –Cathy Crowe and Kathy Hardill – to reflect on their experiences more than 20 years ago and add their recollections of the challenges and successes of producing TJH:
From Cathy Crowe
I’m so proud that a period of Canadian nursing feminism and activism is now recorded for
future generations to learn from. At the time, It seemed incongruous to have ‘peace, shelter, social justice, etc. as prerequisites for health’ drilled into us in nursing school (Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, the Alma-Ata Declaration), while at the same time the same schools neglected to teach even a basic Economics 101 or Politics 101 to teach about the role globalization or militarization play in diverting resources away from healthy public policies such as daycare, affordable housing or decent welfare rates. I can only call it intentional neglect. So at NSR we taught ourselves, the whole while sharing our learnings with the public and other nurses in some of the most creative means I have ever seen.
This is a picture I took of our magazine on display with other prominent feminist publications in the window of the ‘This Ain’t the Rosedale Library’ bookstore in Toronto.
From Kathy Hardill
Reading the analysis of “Towards Justice in Health” brought me back to a time that was “heady” with promise and potential for nurse activism. It was a tumultuous time on the planet
and, looking back, so much has changed. I find myself having to explain the nuclear arms race to younger people, not to mention the Cold War and the Berlin wall. I was recently reminded of a meeting I and others attended with representatives from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) in about 1990 where we argued that organized nursing ought to speak out about homelessness. The nurses across the table from us blinked a few times and said “But what has homelessness got to do with nursing?”
For sure, times have changed! RNAO understands homelessness and many other upstream issues and has become outspoken on these issues within the parameters of its role. Although the language of TJH may at times have been “provocative, strident, and outrageous,” when I listen for the voices of progressive, radical nurses now, I strain to hear anything at all. The most progressive anti-poverty health care voices in Ontario at the moment are from medicine. Progressive nursing needs a radical rebirth in the 21st century!