Creating spaces to celebrate resilience and empowerment of racialized women
The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted the most pain on those who were already vulnerable, in particular, racialized women newcomers, immigrants and refugees. The disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) women has revealed a one-sided catastrophic brunt of the pandemic and exacerbated the already longstanding systemic barriers through the glare of systemic racism and related inequities with employment, income, healthcare, housing, food and resources.
Women leaders from the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors came together to discuss crucial policies to address this precarious trajectory and issue a call to action to reset, shape and advance a more gender inclusive and equitable recovery. 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 need for intersectional policy measures such as decent work with paid sick leave requirements; pay equity; affordable early learning and childcare; validation of care work with decent wages and union protections; the need for legislation prohibiting landlords from residential evictions during a pandemic; creation of an Anti-Racism Directorate; and disrupting and dismantling the systems that have created the inequitable distribution of power, wealth and resources. A call was also made for organizations to embed and integrate equitable practices in their programs and workplaces, providing for accountability to name micro aggressions and Anti-Black and Indigenous Racism as well as to develop a long-term strategic approach with clear performance indicators and milestones on how to ensure that discriminative harmful practices were dismantled.
Addressing the need to have a more inclusive recovery that benefits all segments of society, MPP Jill Andrew drew attention to past efforts she had advanced in calling for a gender equity strategy in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. “There needs to be forward-thinking intersectional legislation. All Bills should go through a gender intersectional lens so that people who are farthest from the system can benefit,” MPP Andrew said. “And there needs to be collaboration where our legislation is not made in a vacuum but is reflective of the grassroots community.”
“The pandemic has showed us what was already broken in our society. We need to get those in power to address the systemic inequities and challenges that have been exponentially exposed by the pandemic,” Maya Roy, CEO, YWCA Canada said. She also highlighted the precarious conditions of women living in shelters, the increased levels of violence against women, hate crimes and the entrapment of women living with their abusers in the pandemic lockdown without additional support. “While we were successful in getting some of the language of the Feminist Economic Recovery Plan into the Throne Speech to address some of these issues, there is still a lot more to be done. For instance, we cannot restart the economy without affordable childcare. We have to continue influencing these political choices determinedly to ensure that the needs and perspectives of women, Two-Spirit and gender diverse people are considered.”
Acknowledging Maya’s sentiments, Carmina Ravanera, co-author of the Feminist Economic Recovery Plan and Research Associate at the Institute of Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, re-echoed the need for those with political power and will to address the existing inequities. She highlighted tangible recommendations to help level the playing field for racialized immigrant and refugee women. This included provisions for decent work with a 14-day paid sick leave to curb the spread of the virus and provide job security. “No one should have to choose between their health and job,” she said, “There is need for job security, an expedited pathway to permanent residency for immigrant and newcomer women who are taking on essential work at the frontline and putting their lives at risk to care for others. This will help afford them better healthcare access.” She called for policies to be informed by consultations from organizations supporting immigrants’ rights in order to be holistic, effective and equitable.
“We need to advocate for 1% of Canada’s GDP to go to early learning and child care. Investment in early learning and child care contributes to huge involvement and engagement of women’s economic participation,” Carmina said, noting that Canada should be taking steps to meet this OECD benchmark and that it is a necessary investment for more equitable outcomes for women. “The 1% of GDP, which equates to almost $17 Billion, is an investment in our society with a greater return on women’s participation in the workplace boosting our economy, this helps build sustainable better communities.”
Private sector and organizations’ role to address existing inequities through a holistic intersectional lens was also discussed as a crucial pathway to an equitable reset. “There is a wide reckoning and understanding that even with the policies in place, they might not be working. There is a lot of critical work needed, to plug in the gaps and look at the language, whether it speaks to Anti-Racism, Anti-Black and Indigenous Racism, to look at existing microaggressions and why underrepresented staff are not receiving equitable outcomes”, Chanel Grenaway, Principal at Chanel Grenaway & Associates said. “Organizations need to undertake a long-term strategic approach to ensuring accountability, for instance, committing to asking the question – who is benefitting and who is missing out? Tangible actionable processes and tools are needed to disrupt and dismantle existing bias and systemic racism. It is an ongoing journey, tailor made to each organization to shape an inclusive equitable environment for its staff, and in particular for racialized BIPOC women.”
Acknowledging news of the injustice suffered for yet another black life lost, MPP Jill Andrew emphatically called for the establishment of an Anti-Racism Directorate to address racism, analyze and implement recommendations with consultations from marginalized communities. This would help racialized women to advocate for their rights. She also called for pay equity to support women’s economic liberation, child care support which is intrinsically linked to women’s participation in the workforce and an intersectional lens on all policies and laws. She also called on participants to be more involved in policy advocacy to continue the work to address systemic racism. “In order to address pathways for an equitable reset, we need to combine passion, lived experiences and ‘heart-work’ along with inclusive strategies, because every single step matters to address systemic racism,” she noted.
“Black and Indigenous women have suffered racial injustice and have been striving to achieve equitable outcomes through activism for a long time,” said Maya Roy, “As non-Black and non-Indigenous women, we need to use our respective spheres of influence to disrupt and dismantle Anti-Black racism and Anti-Indigenous racism. We need to step up to address and advocate for clear policies and procedures.”
Surranna Sandy concluded the empowering and inspiring Spotlight Series with a call to continue to work together to combat the systemic inequalities to ensure a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable recovery for racialized marginalized women communities to thrive. She highlighted the crucial need for integrated intersectional policies in the national rebuilding process, in order to avoid going back to “business as usual”. She also cautioned BIPOC women communities to be mindful of the mental toll of the pandemic compounding into additional challenges, reflecting on the need to take time for self-care, which ultimately translates into community care.
The next Spotlight Series is slated on December 1st from 11am to 12pm, focusing on Immigrants, COVID-19, and the Economy, how COVID-19 has changed Canadian sentiments, the long-term impacts on Canadian immigrants, its impact on immigrant and refugee settlement and what it means for the future of the Canadian Labour market.