Ottawa’s Women and Gender Equity Strategy Supports a “She-Covery”

Posted on July 6, 2021
By Natasha Pei

a womanThe City of Ottawa’s Women and Gender Equity Strategy, initiated in 2018 by the City Council and published in March 2021, recognizes that even before COVID-19, women faced discrimination and barriers to services and opportunities. COVID-19 has highlighted these gaps and exacerbated the inequities. Women – particularly racialized, low-income, and/or newcomer women – have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. In comparison to men, COVID-19 has resulted in a major step back for women (both employees and entrepreneurs) in the workforce.

According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s report She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario, working-age women have lost more than twice as many jobs as men in Ontario, experienced a labour force participation slump rivalling levels last seen 30 years ago, and are seeing slower re-employment than men. Even amongst women who haven’t lost their job, a North American study revealed 1 in 4 have considered reducing their hours or leaving paid work due to stress.

These impacts are due to a number of compounding factors:

  • Women are more likely to be employed in the service industry, hit hardest by stay-at-home orders (ex. retail, hospitality, personal and social services).

  • Women entrepreneurs operate in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Their businesses are newer, smaller, and less well-financed. They were less eligible for emergency financial support due to employing fewer paid staff, laid off more workers, and were more likely to lack the financial reserves to adapt.

  • Women are acting as primary caregivers to children staying home from school or daycare and/or to elderly family members taken out of Long-Term Care Homes. Some who didn’t lose their jobs participated less, such as mother academics who are publishing less than their male peers during COVID-19.

  • Women have been at the frontlines of the pandemic (as nurses, PSW’s, etc.) but have been left out of economic recovery discussions.

This economic marginalization of women also puts them at greater risk for gender-based violence and mental illness.

She-Covery GraphChanges in Employment since February 2020 (Ontario) – Source: The She-Covery Project

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce makes 38 recommendations for a She-Covery under five key areas that implicate both the provincial and the federal governments:

  • Leadership and accountability – Set collective targets, reward diversity, include women in decision-making bodies and apply a gender and diversity lens to strategies, policies and programs for recovery. If we don’t set goals and develop a means for accountability, it won’t get done.

  • Childcare – Create a short-term strategy to help mothers participate in the workforce during COVID-19 and implement system-wide reforms long-term to improve accessibility and affordability

  • Workforce development – 500,000 jobs that were cut across Canada in 2020 are anticipated not to return. Ramp up supports for women to re-skill, particularly in fast-growing sectors

  • Entrepreneurship – Address barriers faced by women entrepreneurs and support their businesses by creating an inclusive, supportive ecosystem

  • Flexible work arrangements – Level the playing field for caregivers and improve organizational outcomes through flexible work hours, days, or work settings.

Ottawa’s Women and Gender Equity Strategy puts some of these recommendations to action at a local level and goes even further to addresses the safety of the workplace. The Strategy guides the City’s decision-making culture and practices. Their priorities for their first two years, as informed by the community, include:

  • Policy change for women and gender equity – Decisions, policies, programs, plans, and resource allocations will be informed by a Gender-Based Analysis (GBA+) lens to ensure that people from all gender groups have equitable access to services and resources.

  • Safety – Policies and accountability mechanisms (data and evaluation) will ensure that all offices and facilities are free from all forms of gender-based violence.

  • Equitable representation for women – The City will promote and increase women and gender diverse representation in its workforce and introduce policies that support career success by providing equitable access to work opportunities. This includes upward mobility into leadership roles and into occupations traditionally under-represented by women and gender-diverse people.

  • Gender inclusivity – Offices will be welcoming and safe for the environment for all gender groups.

While overwhelmingly the above She-Covery measures must be achieved through good public policy, there are numerous ways in which non-profit or for-profit organizations can play a role. A key role for poverty reduction collaboratives is to consider how alongside local employers, local governments, citizens and non-profits, they can support women workers and entrepreneurs to remain in or re-join the workforce.

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Natasha Pei, Women, CRP Blogs, Communities Ending Poverty, Gender Equity

Natasha Pei

By Natasha Pei

Natasha Pei brings online content to life and engages our members in the Vibrant Communities learning centre for poverty reduction. Natasha's involvement with Tamarack began with the Communities First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) project, where she worked as a Research Assistant in the Poverty Reduction Hub, studying effective ways community-campus engagement can be undertaken to have real benefits for the community.

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