Submitted to WAGE on April 17 2020
The National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL/ANFD)
The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW/ICREF)
and supported by the following national women’s groups and allies:
Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters
Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Canadian Women’s Foundation
Canadian Labour Congress
Child Care Now
Ending Violence Association of Canada
The Equality Fund
Feminist Alliance for International Action International Women’s Rights Program
Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak / Women of the Métis Nation OCASI-Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants Pauktuutit
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
West Coast LEAF
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
Women’s Shelters Canad
Yukon Status of Women Council
The COVID-19 Crisis
It is becoming increasingly evident the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that will have complex and disproportionate impacts on women and girls across Canada, particularly those that experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This crisis is highlighting and exacerbating existing forms of violence, discrimination and marginalization experienced by women and girls, in all our diversity.
In order to ensure that women and girls, their families and communities who need assistance most will be included in, and benefit from federal responses to the pandemic, it is imperative that there be a robust and systematic application of an intersectional feminist analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls, and of existing and potential policy and budgetary responses to it. The limited COVID-19 responses designed specifically for women, have focused entirely on the critical services that women’s shelters and sexual assault centres provide. The focus on VAW/GBV is important of course, but represents a very limited and initial response.
We know that the federal government is committed to ensuring a GBA+ in all policy making and legislation, and we also recognize it was challenging to implement before the crisis, but now more than ever a GBA+ is essential. Equality seeking women’s groups are uniquely positioned to make valuable contributions to the COVID-19 response. Our feminist organizations and networks have intersectional feminist analysis, policy expertise, front line experience working with and for women and much more that would make significant contributions to a gender responsive approach to COVID-19. Consultation, collaboration and coordination between equality-seeking women’s groups and the government is more important than ever, if we are going to ensure no one is left behind because of COVID-19.
The situation of equality seeking women’s groups in Canada
National women’s groups and our provincial/territorial and local colleagues are already working together and alongside our allies on many fronts to support women across the country and advocate for a gender specific response to the pandemic.
However, even before the pandemic, ensuring the ongoing sustainability of some feminist organizations, and movements in Canada remained an ongoing challenge. Given the depth and breadth of the damage done to feminist organizations during the decade that many were defunded, many were still rebuilding and trying to stabilize.
Many feminist networks and organizations continued to struggle with funding and capacity gaps. Fundraising remains a particular challenge for many equality seeking women’s groups in Canada, including those caught in the ongoing cycle of trying to cobble together short term project funding to continue to operate. The lack of support for marginalized women, including; women with disabilities, Indigenous, criminalized, racialized women, those with precarious immigration status, lesbian, bi, trans and intersex women and many others was and continues to be particularly acute. The COVID-19 crisis is further threatening our invaluable but already vulnerable sector.
We know that the federal government recognizes the importance of a strong feminist movement and the knowledge and expertise our sector brings to advancing women’s rights in Canada, and that there has been significant project-based funding invested to strengthen our organizations, but the pandemic has radically altered the context in which we operate.
Carrying on operations remotely is very challenging for many women’s groups,1 including because:
Unfortunately, the emergency funding announced to date does not respond to the particular situation of most equality seeking women’s groups in Canada, including those that are reliant on project funding. Funded projects are in place, but challenges in delivering them have already begun and are expected to widen and deepen. If project funded activities are postponed or cancelled, project staff will need to be laid off, and project offices closed. However, because most project funded women’s groups have not experienced an immediate loss of revenue, they are not eligible for emergency funding. Our project funding also does not cover the unforeseen costs resulting from the pandemic. As we had not factored in these costs in our project proposals, we are unable to make these investments without putting our project deliverables in jeopardy.
The calls for an Emergency Charitable and Non-Profit Sector Stabilization Fund are important, and we support these calls, and hope that women’s groups will be included should this Fund be established. In addition however, targeted core funding is required for equality seeking women’s groups.
The Ask: Core Funding for Equality Seeking Women’s Groups
We applaud the funding allocated to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres as an important first step. However, much, much more funding is required as this pandemic has the potential to threaten the survival of many feminist organizations and movements. Therefore, the injection of sector specific funding is imperative.
We appreciate the project funding that the Women’s Program has made available since the 2015 federal election. It has given many groups important support to undertake specific activities and initiatives designed to advance women’s rights in Canada. However, project funding alone was not sufficient before COVID-19 hit, and it certainly will not be enough in the face of the current crisis or for the rebuilding and recovery that will need to follow. Therefore, given the particular situation of women’s groups, and the unique contributions we can make to advocating for and supporting a gender responsive approach to COVID-19, equality seeking women’s groups in Canada are urgently calling for WAGE to provide core funding. Core funding will provide an important lifeline to avoid a collapse not only of individual women’s organizations, but also of the sector as a whole.
For decades, women’s groups and our allies have been advocating for a return of the core funding that was previously provided by the Women’s Program.2 Included in its 2005 report, the FEWO Committee’s second recommendation was that the “funding to women’s groups be revised by introducing a mix of core funding and project funding.” 3
Now more than ever, core funding for equality seeking women’s groups is essential, and represents a high impact investment as part of the COVID-19 response.
The Mechanism: Converting Capacity Building Fund Grants to Core Funding
Given the diversities within and between women’s groups, there may be a range of appropriate and strategic approaches that will be proposed by various feminist organizations and coalitions, and others that WAGE might develop to deliver a combination of both core and project funding to women’s groups.
Converting the existing Capacity Building Fund (CBF) grants into core funding stands out as a principled, practical, and strategic way to quickly and easily provide funding that will have high impact on the sector. There are many benefits associated with this option including that:
Converting existing project grants to core funding, provides an opportunity to provide stability to the sector using the funds that have already been committed to a wide range of groups. Additional funds that currently exist within the Women’s Program but have not yet been committed, would be available both to provide core funding to additional equality seeking women’s groups that did not receive a CBF grant, and to support COVID-19 related collaborations and innovations.
Equality seeking women’s groups that did not receive a CBF grant will also need some stabilization in order to contribute to the COVID-19 response, especially organizations and networks of and for marginalized women, including; women with disabilities, Indigenous, criminalized, racialized women, those with precarious immigration status, lesbian, bi, trans and intersex women and other groups experiencing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.
This is a complex and quickly evolving situation and the economic and other impacts of COVID-19 on women across the country, and on our sector, are likely to be significant and last for some time.
Equality seeking women’s groups need to not just survive but thrive in order to be able to advance the rights of women in all our diversity, during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
For many decades, equality seeking women’s groups have led the fight to ensure that the rights of all women in Canada are respected, protected and fulfilled. The provision of core support at this critical time is essential for us to be able to continue playing this role, both during and in the aftermath of the current crisis. Appropriately resourced women’s groups will be able to not just survive, but thrive, collaborate and work in cooperation with each other and our allies, to develop innovative, strategic interventions to COVID-19. We are ready, willing and able to demonstrate intersectional feminism in action, and advocate for responses that will help dismantle the many forms of systemic discrimination that women, their children, families and communities face, and drive transformational change across the country.
Core funding is the only funding intervention that will provide all equality seeking women’s groups with appropriate support. Therefore we urge WAGE to employ multiple approaches to support women’s groups, including but not limited to converting CBF grants to core funding.
1 This is a snapshot of just a few of the challenges many women’s groups that rely on project funding are facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. A comprehensive review of the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s groups is required.
2 Until 1998, half of the Women Program budget was spent on program/core funding.
3 Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, Funding Through the Women’s Program: Women’s Groups Speak Out, May 2005, p. 8, available online at: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/381/FEWO/Reports/RP1861931/FEWO_Rpt03/FEWO_Rpt03-e.pdf.