Women leaders come together to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalized women
Toronto, 17 September 2020 by Skills for Change
Women leaders from the nonprofit and academic sectors came together on September 15 to discuss the dire challenges and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s wellbeing and livelihoods across different spheres, from health to the economy, and security to social protection. The discussion was held as part of Skills for Change’s Spotlight Series, a workshop series with an in-depth look at relevant issues of today, featuring expert guest speakers and thought leaders.
Moderated by Skills for Change CEO, Surranna Sandy, the panel discussion highlighted the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on women, specifically newcomer, immigrant, racialized and refugee women. COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated a sense of isolation, mental health issues, labour market precarity and for some, an increased risk of violence.
Addressing the mental health challenges, Sunder Singh, Executive Director of Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women provided context on how the pandemic has been detrimental to women’s wellbeing. “Financial insecurity is directly linked to mental health”, she stated. “Financial insecurity, family and childcare responsibility increase the burden on women, resulting in poor mental health. In certain households, these factors have triggered and aggravated issues which have led to increased domestic violence.”
“It is not just about mental wellness for women but physical violence and injuries that could lead to traumatic brain injuries,” Nneka MacGregor, Co-founder and Executive Director of Women’s Centre for Social Justice said, highlighting the need to have access to support networks to ensure women are not isolated and the pattern of intimate partner violence is broken. The panel also took note of the increase in substance and alcohol abuse as well as access to firearms that have further intensified the violence against women.
Highlighting the challenges of vulnerable homeless women in shelters, Priyanka Sheth, Interim Executive Director of Sistering noted the need for subsidized housing for these women, food security, access to medication, medical care and support for individuals with substance use complexities. She also addressed the social inequalities that COVID-19 had exposed, particularly for racialized women. Priyanka commented, “We need long-term anti-racism work done within communities and organizations. We have to commit to this goal to ensure long-term inclusive sustained and equitable outcomes. We, as women who are in positions of power need to pull up people with us to ensure that all voices are heard.”
On the economic and employment side, Dr. Wendy Cukier, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute Founder and Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), noted that women’s unemployment rates were higher than for men, and women’s labour participation rate has fallen to its lowest in 30 years according to a recent report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and supported by WEKH. Most pertinent to the issue of women’s employment and entrepreneurship participation is the issue of childcare. “Childcare is an economic issue and not a women’s issue,” Dr. Cukier clarified. “Investment in childcare is fundamental to bridging the gap to more inclusive economic gendered outcomes which will require retooling our social infrastructure.”
Sultana Jahangir, Executive Director of the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization emphasized the high poverty and unemployment rates of women during the pandemic and the existing systemic barriers in the labour market which were reflective of a broken system incompatible and not commensurate with 21st century needs. “We need a system to recognize everyone’s need,” Sultana said, “We need to build equity so that everyone can get quality support. We need to create a new 2020 system that can work for everyone.”
The empowering and insightful session called for more inclusive policies to support women’s wellbeing and livelihoods including provision of financial investments to foster BIPOC women’s participation in the economy, equitable childcare policies, gender diversity data to better inform gender specific policies and strategies and women’s support networks proven to be effective. There was also a call to collaborate among women in leadership roles in organizations and institutions. This was eloquently articulated by Nneka, “We need systems and programs that fit BIPOC women’s needs. Bringing together organizations to collaborate helps to amplify the collective voice for these marginalized women and to make space for women to take up space and represent diverse perspectives like Black communities whose voices are somewhat always muted.”
Surranna Sandy concluded the Spotlight Series with a call for all organizations to work together to address the different challenges identified, to support BIPOC women to counter the challenges presented by the pandemic and to make inclusive inputs to plans to bring about Canada’s gender equality, social and economic recovery.
The next Spotlight Series is slated on October 20 from 11am to 12pm, delving deeper into the domino effect of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on women and the crucial policy measures required to respond to the disproportionate challenges faced by women, particularly in the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
For over 38 years, Skills for Change has supported the integration and well-being of immigrants and refugees in Canada. For more information, please visit www.skillsforchange.org, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
The Spotlight Series recordings are available at https://skillsforchange.org/spotlight-series/. For more information about the Spotlight Series, please contact Justine Namara, Associate Director, Programs and Strategic Initiatives at firstname.lastname@example.org