Letter sent by NAWL to the Prime Minister from women’s rights and equality seeking groups on feminist policy making in the context of COVID-19

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching and long-term gendered impacts.  Women are front and centre when it comes to the impacts of and responses to the pandemic. From increased risk of violence in abusive homes under lockdown 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 taking on many additional burdens in this crisis. As data from Statistics Canada shows us, women have faced the brunt of the economic impacts of this pandemic such as higher levels of job losses which are compounding the impacts of women’s already higher levels of poverty, especially those of certain groups of women – specifically Indigenous and racialized women, and women with precarious immigration status.

At the outset of the COVID-19 emergency, women were facing existing pay equity gaps and occupational segregation, and reduced access to critical services, including sexual and reproductive health services. The structural and systemic disadvantages in place excluded specific groups of women from accessing supports and benefits and ensured their over-representation in work and life situations that increased their vulnerability to COVID-19 transmission, and the crisis has made this situation very much more serious for women.

We thank you for your government’s early recognition that home is not safe for many women and their children, and for the support you have provided to shelters and sexual assault centres to ensure they have some additional resources to meet increased demand for services.  We were also encouraged to see the government move forward on banning military-style assault rifles in the wake of the horrific murders in Nova Scotia.

Your government has made a strong commitment to ensuring a feminist approach to policymaking by embedding a requirement in your ministerial mandate letters to conduct rigorous GBA+ analysis on all decisions.  We urge you to ensure that this requirement is fully adhered to in the rapid and shifting pace of policymaking during this pandemic.  As your government begins to put in place plans for the recovery we ask you to ensure that gender disparities are not allowed to persist or become further entrenched. It is in all our interests to ensure that women are not left behind.

A crisis that has already had, and will continue to have a disproportionate impact on women requires feminist analysis and a feminist response.  Emergency relief and response measures, as well as recovery planning, must be in compliance with substantive gender equality norms and standards and be centred in intersectional feminist approaches to ensure that all government action takes into account women in all their diversity, with a particular focus on those most impacted and those most disadvantaged and at risk. It is important for the government to recognize particular needs, including women with disabilities dependent on caregivers, as well as those with caregiving responsibilities; First Nations, Métis and Inuit women living in overcrowded and substandard housing and in rural and remote communities lacking available supports; Black and racialized women providing care services in precarious employment situations; older women; women who are homeless, criminalized, or have precarious immigration status and younger women who have been disproportionately experiencing job loss and reduction in work hours.

Women’s rights and gender equality organizations have invaluable experience, expertise, and mandates, and can and should play a vital role in advocating for and supporting the development, implementation and monitoring of 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 of women, their families and communities. Within the women’s rights and gender equality sector, organizations both represent and work closely with marginalized women and 2SLGBTQ+ communities and should be involved in helping to identify appropriate solutions both short and long term.

Your government has recognized the importance of strong, sustainable women’s movements to address systemic barriers impeding gender equality, and the funding initiatives of the last five years have put us on a path toward rebuilding following decades of austerity. This crisis could represent a significant and potentially devastating setback for the sector, just at a time when diverse feminist voices and intersectional feminist analysis are so desperately needed. At the same time, current funding mechanisms make it difficult for the sector to respond nimbly and swiftly to engage in efforts to mitigate the impacts of the crisis. As with all sectors, now more than ever, we need flexibility, adaptability and innovation and that requires resources.

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 to discuss the following priority issues:

  1. An immediate commitment from your government to the financial stabilization of the women’s rights and gender equality sector, in response to the existing unique disadvantages that this sector faces, compared to other charities and not-for-profit organizations. This must include both a) addressing immediate gaps in the emergency funding for the women’s rights and gender equality sector, in particular for those organizations not already receiving funding through the initial $200 million, with a focus on the needs of diverse women, such as Black, Indigenous and racialized women, immigrant, migrant and refugee women, women with disabilities and 2SLGBTQ+, as well as b) long-term funding, including flexible and unrestricted operational funding for the women’s rights sector to support both advocacy and service delivery to advance women’s rights and gender equality in the context of the COVID-19 relief, recovery and response.
  2. The establishment and funding of processes for and with organizations with a primary focus on advancing women’s rights and gender equality, for them to coordinate, be engaged in, and be consulted with all aspects of policymaking and service delivery on relief, recovery and response measures related to COVID-19.  This would complement and support the work that must be done by the government to ensure that COVID-19 response policies are designed through the systematic application of intersectional Gender-Based Analysis and gender budgeting procedures, that are framed around the rights and needs of those most marginalized by intersecting inequalities, particularly those experienced by different groups of women. These policies must be supported by robust collection of disaggregated data.

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, which will, of course also benefit all people in Canada.

Thank you again for your early actions to address the increased risk of gender-based violence during this extended period of confinement, and for your ongoing efforts to ensure that everyone who has been impacted by this pandemic receives the support they need.  We are committed to working with your government to help clarify the intersectional gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to support a rigorous and much needed far-reaching feminist response to the pandemic during and in the recovery phase.

We would welcome the opportunity to engage you and the members of your cabinet committee on the federal response to COVID-19 to discuss the gendered economic impacts, the realities of caregiving, the burden of unpaid work on women, the role and funding of the women’s rights and gender equality sector, and the potential components of a gender-responsive recovery plan.

Sincerely,

Suki Beavers
Executive Director
National Association of Women and the Law

on behalf of:

List of endorsing organizations: