FEATURE19 January 2022

Uneven impact: Feminism and pandemic recovery

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Features Impact North America

Research in Canada has helped policymakers see pandemic recovery through a feminist lens. By Katie McQuater.

Girl looking out of window during the pandemic

The disproportionate, intersectional impact of the pandemic has now been well established, from people in marginalised communities to women bearing the burden of unpaid childcare.

In Canada, two organisations understood this acutely and sought to mobilise research on the inequitable impacts of the pandemic. In 2020, the Institute for Gender and the Economy (Gate), at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and YWCA Canada partnered to bring together academic research and advocacy, with a view to exploring how the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic can – and should – be feminist.

Gate research associate Carmina Ravanera, and Anjum Sultana, national director of public policy and strategic communications at YWCA Canada, co-authored A feminist economic recovery plan for Canada, which sets out the steps Canadian policymakers should take to ensure a feminist approach to recovery efforts.

“Both of us were inspired by the feminist economic recovery plan from the Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women, and thought it was important that a similar lens was brought to Canadian policy,” explains Ravanera.

The plan focused on many of the issues on which the organisations were already working, such as care work, gender-based violence and intersectional policy analysis. The authors gathered academic and policy resources on these issues, and explored their implications for Canada’s policy landscape during and after Covid-19.

For example, the paper highlighted how important it is to support social infrastructure for the care economy. Before the pandemic, women in Canada were doing, on average, 1.5 more hours of unpaid domestic work per day than men.

The scale of inequalities thrown under the spotlight by the pandemic created a challenge for the authors in narrowing the plan down to eight pillars, says Ravanera. “There are many other important issues and policies that could have fallen under this plan, such as the climate crisis and green recovery, or the impacts of the pandemic on sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

In October 2020, Canada’s federal government announced the need for an intersectional, feminist response in its ‘speech from the throne’. In April 2021, the budget proposed several measures recommended in the plan – notably the implementation of $10 a day childcare nationwide.

“This was a huge step forward, as childcare is currently too expensive for many families across the country, which really impacts women’s workforce participation,” says Ravanera.

“The pandemic has brought to the fore how essential care work is for our society, whether it is paid or unpaid. But not only is this work gendered and racialised – it’s also highly undervalued. That has put many people’s economic and health situations at risk during the pandemic.”

The government also set up a task force on women in the economy, increased funding for underrepresented entrepreneurs, and has been moving forward with an action plan on gender-based violence.

“On a municipal and federal level, we also saw more intersectional analysis of data gathered on Covid-19, which was something we recommended,” says Ravanera.
Without an intersectional analysis of economic recovery policies, governments will lack understanding of how different communities – and marginalised communities in particular – are affected, says Ravanera.

“Inequality and inequity occur based on the many different social identities that affect people’s experiences, including gender, race, sexual orientation, income, indigenous status, immigration status, and more. If this lens is not incorporated into recovery, we are risking continuing to leave some groups and communities behind.”

Sultana, A. & Ravanera, C. ( 2020, July 28 ). A feminist economic recovery plan for Canada: making the economy work for everyone. feministrecovery.ca

  • In rural communities and lower-income countries, women spend around five times more hours on unpaid domestic work than men
  • Globally, women’s unpaid care work amounts to an estimated US$10.8tn

(Source: Oxfam, 2020 )