Since coming to power in 2015, the Liberal government has done the most—and we mean the most—to appear as a feminist government and the saviour of women all over the globe. From presenting Justin Trudeau as the feminist prime minister worthy of international praise to developing the gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) framework for policy development, this government’s been making moves for the past five years. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic continues to show us that one-time investments in the gender equality sector or hosting international feminist conferences will not do the necessary work of addressing the intersecting problems that Black, Indigenous, and racialized women disproportionately face.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, community leaders have been highlighting the role of COVID-19 in exacerbating the intersecting inequities that threaten the limited progress that’s been made toward gender-equality over the past few years. From widening the gender wage gap to increasing women’s safe housing and shelter needs, this pandemic has highlighted the urgency for meaningful long-term commitments to advancing gender equality in Canada.
The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that there has been a 17 per cent dip in employment among women, and that drop is even greater, 38 per cent, for women between the ages of 15 and 24, contributing to an impending increase in the gender wage gap. This gap will be even wider for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women who already worked under precarious conditions and whose work is systematically undervalued within our workplaces. In addition to the fall in employment rates, Black, Indigenous, and racialized women are more likely to perform unpaid care work compared to white women, which also contributes to an income gap that will exasperate their financial independence and lead to greater gender and racial inequity in the aftermath of the pandemic. This fall in employment resulted in women accounting for three-fifths of new applicants for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit since late June.
For a government that champions gender equality, it sure doesn’t take the concerns of one gender as seriously as another.
According to a survey by Oxfam Canada, around half of Indigenous women and 55 per cent of Black women are currently struggling financially because of unpaid care work. This is the result of a lack of childcare options due to the public-health measures aimed at containing COVID-19 that are expected to last well into the new year if women can’t find affordable and accessible options as workplaces start to open up. This means that if our “feminist” government (though whether or not it’s intersectional is another matter altogether) doesn’t fund affordable and/or universal childcare by the time workplaces start to open up, the needle will start moving backwards for many women, especially Black and Indigenous women, who remain the primary caregivers in their families.
Combine this widening income gap with women’s increasing need for safe and affordable housing and shelter and you’ll get a good view of why this is disastrous. These issues aren’t siloed, rather they are very interconnected.
Across Canada, women and gender-diverse people continue to face some of the harshest barriers in finding shelter and housing. From full-capacity shelters to unaffordable rental prices, the housing needs of women are chronically underfunded and neglected; the situation is even worse for transgender women and non-binary people as many existing shelters and rape crisis centres refuse to accept transgender individuals or perpetrate further violence against them.
This chronic underfunding is partly due to the hidden nature of women’s homelessness and housing precarity. According to a report published in June, women are less likely to appear in mainstream shelters, drop-in spaces, public spaces, or access other homeless-specific services. This is partly to avoid the stigma surrounding homelessness and results in relying on relational, precarious, and dangerous supports to survive, such as sleeping on friends’ couches or trading sex for housing, an experience that has escalated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when women attempt to access emergency housing and shelter needs, many of them are turned away, meaning that many women and children are forced to return to violent and unsafe spaces as a result. In fact, an average of 620 women and children a day were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada in November 2019.
This is incel feminism. Or WE feminism, take your pick.
Homelessness and housing precarity are even more common and violent for Black and Indigenous women and gender diverse people. As a result of intersecting racism, poverty, and violence, Indigenous women and gender-diverse peoples experience the worst housing conditions throughout Canada and remain the most underserved in both the violence against women (VAW) and homelessness sectors.
Earlier this year, the federal government made a one-time investment in women’s shelters and sexual violence centres across the country, but this government needs to pull up and come up with specific strategies like universal childcare, housing, and basic income plans that will address the needs of marginalized women holistically. It’s not like there isn’t a template. What is required is leadership from our prime minister that seems to be absent from his administration.
By the way, it’s been nearly two months since the murder of George Floyd and we’re still waiting for this transformational change that Trudeau promised us. If his commitment to women is any indication, we won’t see much.
Arezoo Najibzadeh and Erica Ifill are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.