Canada

‘She-cession’ still must be addressed, say groups urging Ontario to act

In order to help women recover economically from the pandemic, Ontario needs to provide more support and retraining, boost their working conditions and sign a child-care agreement with the federal government, says a new campaign led by the YWCA Ontario to get the she-cession back on politicians’ minds.

In an open letter — sent by more than 30 organizations to Premier Doug Ford and the NDP, Liberal and Green parties — the groups say “we want to start this conversation now to ensure that each and every candidate in this upcoming (June) election is focused on creating a feminist recovery. As community organizations and advocates from across the province, we are speaking up to demand a concrete plan.”

Women have borne the brunt of the economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations write, noting that this is “the first time a global economic crisis has disproportionately impacted women, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, LGBTQ2S+, newcomers and those living with disabilities. We saw employment figures for men quickly rebound, while women’s workforce participation is only slowly recovering after dropping to levels not seen in 30 years. We have been waiting to hear tangible solutions for tackling the she-cession.”

The groups note that the provincial throne speech in early October “made no mention of it and there has been no targeted strategy to address this large part of the labour force. This economic crisis requires transformative intervention. Task forces and tax credits are not enough.”

During the pandemic, women’s employment dropped at a faster rate than men’s — more than five per cent versus three for men — and has not recovered as quickly, given that many jobs in female-dominated sectors, including customer service or hospitality, were disproportionately hit.

The letter, meant to kick off the campaign, was signed by YWCAs in Toronto, Cambridge, Hamilton, Sudbury, Muskoka, Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Thomas and Niagara, as well as a number of groups including the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, Atkinson Foundation, Black Health Alliance, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was also a signatory.

The groups are asking for funding for training and retraining for women to land jobs with good pay, for the province to hammer out a child-care agreement with the federal government and improve working conditions for “feminized industries.”

“We will not let these pressing issues fade into the background,” the letter says. “Now is the time to make a difference. This pandemic is not over — and neither is the she-cession. We need a plan to end it and we need it now.”

Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, director of advocacy and communications for YWCA Toronto, said “essentially we are calling on the provincial government to really prioritize a feminist recovery plan. There’s been a lot of awareness and attention and language around that, but when we think of concrete deliverables, there’s a lot to be desired.”

Last June, the province announced a she-covery task force, which has been meeting with Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jane McKenna.

“We recognize the impact COVID-19 has had on women around the world, and Ontario is no exception,” McKenna said in a statement to the Star. “We also know women have made immense contributions often on the front lines of the pandemic while often carrying a greater burden of family care. That’s why as part of budget 2021, in addition to other funding, we are investing more than $117 million in employment and training supports to assist women and racialized individuals, to help remove barriers and offer training opportunities so they can develop the in-demand skills needed for good jobs.”

She said the task force on women and the economy continues to “report to the government on recommendations to address the unique barriers women face and how we can provide solutions to increase women’s economic empowerment. We are determined that women will not be left behind and will in fact make a strong contribution to Ontario’s economy post COVID-19.”

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who is a member of the standing committee on finance and economic affairs, also said the government should have addressed women’s struggles in the throne speech, adding “it’s going to require policies and strategies that really focus on retraining for women as some sectors decline.”

Ramze Rezaee said “we are at a crossroads. Investments made today will set the tone for the future.”

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