COVID-19: How Your Support Helps Women and Girls During the Pandemic

Advocating for a Strong Gender Lens on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Graphic of a megaphone

Several national women’s groups collaborated on writing a letter to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, as well as other government ministries. The letter highlights the importance of applying an intersectional feminist lens to the COVID-19 pandemic, to the emergency measures and to the recovery, and flagging concerns about the impact this crisis is having on feminist organizations. The Foundation and other national feminist groups are in direct communication with all the ministries, working to promote these requests and will continue to do so.

As we write, evidence continues to mount about the gendered impacts of the COVID- 19 pandemic in Canada. From increased risk of violence under lockdown in abusive homes, to expanded caregiving for children out of school and at-risk vulnerable adults, to a majority presence in front-line health care, social and other service sectors, women are front and centre when it comes to impacts of and response to the pandemic.

Thank you for what you have already done and the speedy response to the GBV crisis.

Your government has committed to ensuring a feminist approach to all policymaking, and this is evident in your immediate response to provide emergency funding to shelters and sexual assault centres who are experiencing increases in demand because of the impact of isolation and uncertainty on gender-based violence. We thank you for these measures and want to encourage you to put the commitment to gender analysis fully into practice, especially given the gendered impact of this pandemic. Emergency response measures and recovery planning need to include substantive gender equality standards and intersectional feminist approaches to ensure that all government action takes into account those most impacted and those most at risk. Special emphasis is needed on the reality that different groups of women in all their diversity and marginalization are experiencing different impacts, requiring specific and targeted responses – such as women with disabilities dependent on caregivers, First Nations, Métis and Inuit women living in over-crowded and substandard housing, racialized women providing care services in precarious employment situations, women who are homeless or have precarious legal status.

Women’s rights and gender equality organizations can and should play a vital role in ensuring an intersectional gender-responsive approach to this crisis and the ensuing recovery measures. Our organizations are uniquely positioned to help the government understand the ways the pandemic is affecting different populations. Within the women’s rights and gender equality sector, organizations both represent and work closely with marginalized women’s and 2SLGBTQ+ communities and could be invaluable in helping to identify appropriate solutions both short and long term.

Employment figures for March show that women lost employment twice as fast as men in the early weeks of change. Almost half of those were women working part-time, many in low paid service and care work, already on the financial edge pre-pandemic. Some of the most vulnerable workers are not covered by the important Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Our primary and long-term care systems are staffed largely by women, a disproportionate share of whom are racialized women. Over 90% of nurses, 75% of respiratory therapists, 80% of medical lab staff, 90% of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in long-term care homes and community homecare, and more than two-thirds of those cleaning our hospitals, schools, and office buildings are women

Your government has made a strong commitment to applying a rigorous Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) on all decisions. This must not be shunted aside in this evolving emergency situation. A key to success is collection of disaggregated data on COVID-19 impacts on different communities and genders.

This crisis has exacerbated many challenges already facing women’s organizations, particularly those which rely on project funding, and poses a threat to their stability. The last five years have seen considerable re-investment in the sector, but many organizations have just begun to rebuild, and remain reliant on project-based funding, or individual private donors for their daily operations.

With a women-dominated workforce, a significant portion of women’s sector staff have increased care responsibilities for children and/or elderly or ill relatives. Wages are low and many lack access to paid sick leave or other benefits. Many staff experience intersecting inequalities, contributing to further marginalization in precarious and undervalued work.

We believe we have much to offer the government in your continuing response to the pandemic, and request an early opportunity to engage with you on the following issues:

  1. Immediate gaps in the emergency funding for the women’s and gender equality sector, in particular those organizations not already receiving funding through the initial injection of $200M into homelessness and GBV response, with a focus on the different needs, such as Indigenous women, women with disabilities and 2SLGBTQ+.
  2. Ensuring that all government COVID-19 response policies are designed through robust Gender-Based Analysis+ and gender budgeting procedures, considering the needs of those most marginalized by intersecting inequalities.
  3. Processes and funding to engage women’s rights, women’s services and gender equality organizations in an ongoing role in development of intersectional GBA- informed responses both during and post-pandemic.
  4. Financial stabilization of the women’s sector that recognizes the existing unique disadvantages that this sector faces, compared to other charities and non-profits.

Thank you again for taking steps to ensure that early measures are put into place to help organizations respond to increasing levels of GBV. We are committed to working with your government to help provide data on the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also to support a rigorous and far-reaching gendered response. We would welcome the opportunity to continue this conversation in a round table meeting, to discuss the gendered economic impacts, the realities of caregiving, the burden of unpaid work on women and the precarity of the sector as a whole. Women’s rights and gender equality organizations are critical to ensuring the rights of women are promoted, strengthening the health, safety, welfare, economic security and leadership of women in all their diversity here in Canada.

We are looking forward to discussing this on the call with you on Friday.

Signed by:
Katherine Scott, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Marie Clarke-Walker, Secretary Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress
Paulette Senior, President and CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation
Susan Bazilli, Director, International Women’s Rights Project
Suki Beavers, Executive Director/Directrice exécutive, NAWL/ANFD
Megan Stephens, Executive Director & General Counsel, Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund (LEAF)

Cc:
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs
The Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister for Families, Children and Social Development

Endorsed by:
Accessibility for All
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
CRIAW – Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
CUPE – Canadian Union of Public Employees
DAWN-RAFH Canada
Ending Violence Association of Canada
FAFIA – Feminist Alliance for International Action
Feminists Deliver
Inter Pares
Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba
Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak / Women of the Métis Nation
National Association of Friendship Centres
New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity/ Coalition pour l’équité salariale du Nouveau- Brunswick
OCASI-Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Oxfam Canada
Public Service Alliance of Canada
SALCO – South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
UNIFOR
Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Women’s Shelters Canada
Women Transforming Cities
YWCA Canada
Young Women’s Leadership Network
Kathleen Lahey, Professor & Co-Director, Feminist Legal Studies, Queen’s University

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