Responding to COVID-19: Community in Action

During the COVID-19 crisis, our commitment to advocating for gender equity and justice is as strong as ever. The pandemic has dramatically highlighted the deep inequalities in our social, economic, and justice systems. As part of our efforts to transform these systems, we are amplifying calls to action from other organizations and community groups. If you’re looking for ways to contribute during the pandemic, or just trying to stay up to date with what’s happening in our communities, here are some calls to action for you to consider.

COVID-19 activism in the spotlight

July 24 – A feminist recovery for BC

The COVID-19 pandemic, like many crises before it, has exacerbated existing gender inequalities. Women and gender non-conforming people are bearing the brunt of the economic and social burdens of the pandemic, while also leading the frontline health and service response.

Women and gender non-conforming people are over-represented in sectors most impacted by the pandemic including hospitality, retail, and service sectors as well as in low-wage, part-time, and informal employment. They have not only been the ones most likely to lose their sources of income during the pandemic, they are also the ones least likely to benefit from emergency financial supports because eligibility criteria for government programs do not factor in these workers’ lived experiences and particular needs.

As the BC government assesses where to allocate provincial resources during this time of great need, it must ensure its restart plan is feminist in process and substance. We have called on the government to ensure the following elements are integrated at all stages of the recovery process:

  • Apply a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to all public policy decisions and recovery-related spending. The GBA+ must be undertaken with feedback from diverse communities, accessible to those who experience intersecting forms of marginalization, and transparent.
  • Ensure policies and spending decisions consider the province’s commitment to the full realization of the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples including the right to self-governance and free prior and informed consent. It is particularly important that Indigenous women and gender non-conforming people play a leadership role in the development of a recovery plan.
  • Create a Gender Advisory Council that provides input on the recovery process, policies and spending. Representation on the Council must be intersectional and in particular include the participation of trans, Two Spirit, and gender non-binary people, Black, Indigenous and people of colour, people with immigrant, refugee and undocumented status, sex trade workers, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, people using substances, and those residing in remote parts of the province.
  • Collect data disaggregated by age, sex, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), pre-existing health conditions, race, Indigeneity, immigration status, geography and income. It is particularly important to collect data that reflects the experiences of trans, Two Spirit and gender non-binary people, as there is currently very little data gathered both provincially and federally on the effect government polices have on these communities. In fact, our research indicates that there is virtually no government data available on the experiences of trans, Two Spirit and gender non-binary people including in areas such as wages, housing, use of public services, overdose related deaths, and experiences in the prison system.

June 9 – Challenging gender-based violence

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the prevalence of gender-based violence and the shortfalls in the response to gender-based violence in BC.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have directed us to stay home whenever possible. However, for many people, home is not a safe place. Those who experience family violence are at heightened risk during this pandemic because they may be isolated with an abuser and cut off from other social support systems. Many survivors may have also experienced a loss of income, which means they have fewer resources to secure safe housing and shelter.

Survivors are also struggling to access support services as community-based sexual assault programs are struggling to meet the increased demand with the same levels of insufficient funding they were receiving before the pandemic hit. For example, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) in Vancouver has reported a 300% increase in calls to their support line since the pandemic began. Native Women’s Association of Canada found 1 in 5 of the women they surveyed had been a victim of violence over the past three months. Shelters across Canada have reported a spike in people seeking safe housing and limited resources to address the increased demand.

It is worth noting that Black and Indigenous women experience disproportionately high levels of violence, and have been leading the way in anti-violence organizing.

May 8 – Supporting sex workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the needs of many communities who experience systemic marginalization are significant. This is certainly true for sex workers, who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and who face heightened risks during this time.

Many sex workers have experienced an abrupt loss of income, yet they are unable to access government financial supports and income replacement like the CERB and provincial income supports. Those who are able to work—or who have no choice but to work—report limitations in their ability to negotiate wages, reduced autonomy and agency and, as a result, increased violence, as well. Trans and racialized women make up a large percentage of people engaging in sex work and face further stigma and harm during this public health crisis.

Closures and changes in services and programs mean that many sex workers are unable to access housing and other amenities they need to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. The ability to socially distance and self-isolate is not accessible to all groups equally.

Frontline community organizations that provide support to sex workers have called on the government to provide cash-based support and make efforts to reach those who may not have identification, employment records, or bank accounts but are in critical need of financial support.

Sex workers cannot be left out of government responses to this pandemic and need immediate supports.

April 25 – Decarceration

The ability to quarantine is a privilege many people do not have. This is especially true for those who are caught in the prison system during this pandemic.

Many people in Canadian prisons live in close proximity to others and often have pre-existing health conditions. Despite the heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying from this disease, people in prison have mostly been left out of the provincial and federal public health responses.

As anticipated by grassroots groups, there have now been multiple reported COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons across the country. These community advocates continue to call on the governments to take immediate action to protect people in prisons. Protections should include the depopulation of prisons and the release of prisoners wherever possible. For those who cannot be released, activists have called for basic protections, including free soap, personal protective equipment, and cleaning supplies.

The lack of government action is particularly concerning given the close links between marginalization and incarceration. Not only are Indigenous women vastly overrepresented in prison populations, but racialized, trans, and gender non-binary people are far more likely to experience harm from poor prison conditions. These harms include violence, harassment, and a lack of access to health care.

Drawing of diverse group of women