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No post-pandemic patriarchy: new Rotman report calls for equitable recovery

How COVID-19 has exposed inequality — and requires building a new normal
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GRACE XU/THE VARSITY
GRACE XU/THE VARSITY

COVID-19 has hit the Canadian economy hard, but not everyone has suffered equally. Women — concentrated in frontline service sector jobs — are feeling the brunt of the pandemic, representing 63 per cent of total job losses as of March. Prior to the lockdown, women, two-spirit individuals, and gender-diverse people were already suffering from systemic barriers to societal advancement, and these preceding months have only exacerbated existing problems.

That is the key takeaway of “A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the Economy Work for Everyone,” a report released by the Rotman School of Management’s Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) and the Young Women’s Christian Association Canada (YWCA Canada) on July 28.

The breakthrough report, which examines the gendered impacts of COVID-19, was co-authored by Anjum Sultana, YWCA Canada’s Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications, and Carmina Ravanera, a research associate at GATE.

The plan is built on eight pillars: “Intersectionality: Understanding Power,” “Addressing Root Causes of Systemic Racism,” “Care Work is Essential Work,” “Investing in Good Jobs,” “Fighting the Shadow Pandemic,” “Bolstering Small Businesses,” “Strengthening Infrastructure for Recovery,” and “Diverse Voices in Decisions.”

By addressing pandemic-related issues in these areas, the plan looks to serve as the foundation upon which a more inclusive and equitable economy can be built.

Taking a different approach 

A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan differs from many COVID-19 recovery plans, such as Ontario’s, which focus on reopening. “Our plan is unique in the sense that we really wanted to focus on how the pandemic has revealed and even exacerbated inequality across the country,” Ravanera said in an interview with The Varsity.

“We were trying to focus on all these aspects of the pandemic that… we thought were not being focused on enough, and we were hoping that would really put these issues in the spotlight.”

Ravanera referenced a lack of affordable housing, clean water availability, and internet access — a necessity to work full-time during lockdown — as examples of these inequity-causing aspects.

The report also highlights the importance of collecting and analyzing race and gender-based data related to COVID-19. Ravanera noted that Canada’s open discussion of multiculturalism has the side-effect of masking the systemic racism that is still present despite the diversity of the country’s population.

According to recent statistics released by the City of Toronto and Statistics Canada, racialized and low-income individuals have suffered disproportionately health-wise and finance-wise from COVID-19. GATE and YWCA Canada took over a month to examine the data and information available about the impacts of COVID-19, and both organizations were able to bring their varying areas of expertise to the table. 

“The YWCA works very much in the space of economic access as well as issues to do with violence against women and gender diverse people and housing,” Ravanera said. “[GATE works] on the economic side of things… like the care economy and decent work and… access to good jobs.”

Striving to create a new and better normal 

In the nearly three weeks since its release, A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan has already received an influx of positive feedback. Ravanera reported high traffic on the report’s website, as well as high popularity for the hashtag #feministrecovery, which was created for the report.

Over 500 attendees were present at the report’s online launch event, and Ravanera hopes that the attention the plan attracts will raise awareness about the issues discussed. As governments continue putting together recovery plans for COVID-19, the plan presents corresponding policy recommendations for them to consider.

What Ravanera wanted A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan to emphasize is that pre-pandemic normalcy is not the solution going forward. “We cannot have a resilient economic recovery if we don’t make equity a pillar of recovery,” Ravanera said. “Returning to normal would just be returning to continuing inequality that’s been in our country for centuries.”

“Instead of talking about returning to normal, we want to focus on fixing these cracks in our society’s foundation so that we’re more resilient to future crises,” Ravanera said. “So many communities don’t have to face inequity that makes them more vulnerable to crises like the one we’re living through now.”