RE: Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI)
In 2019, Canada committed to supporting the most vulnerable communities in accessing affordable and quality housing through the National Housing Strategy. The strategy identified women and children fleeing intimate partner violence as a priority community.
Over the last six months, and in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of safe and affordable housing for women and children fleeing violence has become a front-facing issue. The “stay home” protocol implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, meant that victims of intimate partner violence were confined with their abusers and had dwindled access to resources and supports for safety. Women and children fleeing violence continue to face unique barriers in accessing safe, affordable and quality housing and the current global pandemic has exacerbated the urgency for action.
On September 21, 2020, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen announced new Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) to help address the urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians by rapidly creating new affordable housing. This strategy is described as a step forward in stimulating the economy, and supporting vulnerable communities. WomanACT applauds the minister on this announcement, and on the development of this new initiative.
To remain in alignment with Canada’s National Housing Strategy, WomanACT recommends that the Rapid Housing Initiative recognizes the disproportional barriers that women and their children fleeing intimate partner violence face in accessing housing and adopts a gender equity perspective. To adopt a gender equity perspective would mean that:
Deputation to the Planning and Housing Committee
Re: PH16.8, Addressing Housing and Homelessness Issues in Toronto through Intergovernmental Partnerships
September 22nd 2020
Good Morning. My name is Harmy Mendoza and I am the Executive Director of the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (WomanACT). Our mission is to eradicate violence against women and advance gender equity through coordination, education, research and policy. We convene and mobilize communities across Toronto to drive system change for women and we have been doing this for 29 years.
I am here today to support the Housing and People Action Plan and the COVID-19 Interim Shelter Recovery Strategy. I have had the privilege of being both a member of the Toronto Housing External Advisory Committee and the COVID-19 Shelter Recovery Task Force. In both capacities, WomanACT highlighted the importance of incorporating a strong outreach process with community organizations. Further, we encouraged and supported members' participation from the Violence against Women sector to engage in consultative processes.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing challenges and crisis we face, I have been encouraged by Toronto's collaboration across government and community agencies. This has highlighted the need for this collaboration to be advanced among and across all three levels of government.
It will be no surprise to you that housing remains one of the top issues and barriers faced by women experiencing violence and those services that support them. Or that the Violence against Women sector in Toronto has experienced demand in the needs for services and supports by survivors during the pandemic. Violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness and housing instability among women and their dependent children. It can lead to devastating impacts on a woman's economic security, preventing them from leaving abusive situations because they are unable to secure safe and affordable housing.
The reports' recommendations support the request for a new tri-government partnership to advance and use investments under the National Housing Strategy and other programs. This is particularly critical for women experiencing violence across Toronto who interact with policies and programs operating at municipal, provincial and federal levels.
The reports' recommendations also support the request to expedite actions in the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, including delivering 3,000 affordable and rental supportive homes. This is aligned with we what we have heard from our communities. While emergency shelters are an essential component to any housing strategy, women experiencing violence need and want long term, affordable and permanent housing solutions.
We also welcome the recommendation that SSHA and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services collaborate to coordinate approaches to serving women and their children fleeing domestic violence, including coordination between the VAW system and the City-operated housing opportunities.
Over the last 6 months, the violence against women sector has collectively and rapidly mobilized to adapt to emerging issues and needs. We have embraced change and used this time to reflect on how we can do things differently and better serve women experiencing violence from diverse communities with housing insecurity. We must start implementing measures and solutions that address women's housing needs in the long term to provide safety and stability. Thank you.
By Karen Guan
As my mom grasped the phone to check her app, the only thing on her mind was to check in on a friend that was miles away. Innovations in technology have made it so that my mother, and perhaps, many other women, now feel empowered by connections developed in virtual spaces during this novel time. As I reflect on my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can't help but think that it has forced me to explore some good that lies in social distancing and help me to feel grateful that I live in a digital age.
Staying in Touch: A Feminist Approach
The social distancing measures during the pandemic have changed my perceptions of the word "community" and "connection." Women often bond over common hardships and obstacles, which in this case is the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all experiencing similar hardships to a certain degree. Studies corroborate with this notion as well. According Staeheli (2003), women use the concept of community to establish common ground and shared experiences that help them overcome hardship.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, having close physical proximity did, in many ways, offer women bonds and strength within their respective communities. During these troubled times, however, technology has allowed us to know that there are universal feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, fear, stress, and loneliness. This allows us to witness the transformative power of emotional connection. It is possible women across communities feel a sense of comfort in knowing they are not alone and that they belong to more communities and networks than they realize.
The Ever-Expanding Role of Technology
I understand that there are many counter-arguments on the impact of technology on our well-being. However, I don't necessarily think we have many other options. We need technology during this time and we need to find ways to ensure we are comfortable with using technology to connect. We have to ensure we physically distance, not emotionally disconnect. This emotional connection is the engagement we have with the user behind the screen, not with the device.
Much of our aspects of life have been shifted to online. With the right amount of online safety training and digital literacy, women can feel more confident using digital spaces to seek help. Women use social media, online chat and text services, virtual girls' programming to stay connected. Through efforts to encourage women's digital usage, not only could we further emotional connection post-COVID-19, but there is potential for women to bolster their economic security, enhance their autonomy and safety.
While my daily screen time has never been higher, as a young woman I find myself using technology in a positive and meaningful way. As a result of staying in touch with friends and family members, writing letters to vulnerable populations, and providing peer support clients online, I am experiencing a feeling of interconnectedness differently than before. While this experience may or may not resonate with you, I think it is an opportunity to reflect and discuss the role of technology in keeping women connected.
Staeheli, L.A. (2003). Women and the Work of Community. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 35(5), 815–831.
By Farah Mustafa
Women and communities of gender diverse people have complicated relationships with social media. We always have. Social media is often a tool enabling violence online – used by perpetrators to control victims directly on social media or by controlling how and when social media and technology is accessed.
But sometimes social media can be empowering – bringing likeminded and similarly-experienced communities together. Communities can share resources, promote and celebrate each other’s successes, and bring to light the issues that matter most. During the time of COVID-19, one of many issues that is top of mind for me is the increase of gender based violence, as women and gender diverse people are trapped with abusers in violent spaces; as individuals cannot seek out the resources in person that they typically would; as communities cannot physically be in each other’s comfort. But, there is hope.
As the world has grown exponentially more reliant on technology and digital spaces through the last few months of this pandemic, survivors have found ways to support each other through COVID-19. While technology is not accessible to all, and that is a conversation that requires great exploration and understanding, I am grateful for the way communities of survivors have resiliently leveraged technology to be in our favour during COVID-19.
This includes the increase of accessible physical wellbeing resources that give folks free tools to take care of their physical health within their own comfort, away from spaces that may be uncomfortable or triggering. Examples include Zoom exercise classes, meditation and YouTube channels. Secondly, countless women’s organizations have pivoted their programming to be entirely online, providing counselling and workshops virtually. Survivors are also creating their own community care circles – kind of like pseudo group therapy that replaces the in person meet-ups a lot of us had – for their own networks; some might be created on Facebook and be more informal, while others feature guest speakers in official Zoom events. A popular hand signal created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (https://bit.ly/2YWFGnN) has allowed people facing violence to let others know to check up on them. These are just some of the examples that I’ve seen.
As the months go by, one thing has been clear for me, and that is that survivors of violence have always been resilient and will continue to be that way – pandemic, or no pandemic.
Over the last several decades, an increase in the number of dual-earner and single families across Canada has steadily risen the demand for affordable, quality childcare. Close to half (46%) of the Canadian population relies on childcare, and this number is expected to increase as more parents become dual-earners. Significantly, the availability of open, affordable child care options has not grown parallel to its demand. Across Canada, “776,000 children live in communities where at least three children are competing for one spot in a licensed daycare” (Macdonald, Friendly, 2019). Without access to child care, parents are unable to return to work and in many instances, women exit the workforce to care for children.
Canadians are in desperate need of a publicly funded and managed child care strategy that is affordable, high quality, accessible and inclusive. We think you should support the Affordable Child Care for All Plan:
As illustrated above, nine provinces and all territories across Canada are failing to meet the average need of childcare. Without federal intervention, many families will not have access to licensed establishments and the unmet childcare need of 24.51% will continue to grow wider if left unaddressed.
Across Canada, only one province, Quebec has enough space to accommodate 50% of young people aged 0-12, surpassing the national average. Affordable, high quality childcare benefits everyone.
Creating a Gender Equity Strategy and Gender Equality Office for Toronto - Deputation to the Executive Committee
Deputation to the Executive Committee
Re: 2018.MM44.14, Creating an Intersectional Gender Equity Strategy and Gender Equality Office for Toronto
September 18th 2019
In support of creating a Gender Equity Strategy and Gender Equality Office for Toronto
Good Morning. My name is Harmy Mendoza and I am the Executive Director of the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (WomanACT). Our mission is to eradicate violence against women and advance gender equity through coordination, education, research and policy. We convene and mobilize communities across Toronto to drive system change for women and we have been doing this for 28 years.
I would like to dedicate my deputation to the 148 women and girls killed in 2018 across Canada, 21 of whom lived in Toronto. To the 60 women and girls killed in 2019 across Canada. To Tharshika Jeganathan, killed by her former husband on Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 in Toronto.
I am here this morning to emphasize and speak to the need for a Gender Equity Strategy and Gender Equality Office for Toronto.
While we commend the City of Toronto for undertaking initiatives such as the gender equity tool or applying a gender analysis to strategies such as the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy and HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan, we know there is more to do. We know that in order to reduce inequities faced by women, girls, trans and non-binary people across the city, we need to apply an intersectional gender framework and gender-responsive budgeting process to all policy and programmatic areas.
Gender inequities still persist in Toronto. Women, girls, trans and non-binary individuals face higher rates of violence and continue to be murdered by their partners and ex-partners at a substantially higher rate than men. Women are more likely to be unemployed, in precarious work and still make less money than their male counterparts. And yet, they make up 52% of the population. The experience of being a Torontonian is indeed gendered and these experiences are further impacted by race, immigration status, disability, sexuality and socio-economic status.
When we speak to women experiencing violence in Toronto, we hear what these inequalities translate into. Women are unable to live free from violence because of a lack of access to money and housing. Women tell us that they face discrimination by landlords because they are on social assistance or are lone parents, even though we know that 84% of lone-parent families in Toronto are led by women. Women report that they struggle to access employment, childcare, and public services because of a lack of access to transit, even though we know that 59% of public transit users in Toronto are women. Women also tell us that there is still an expectation that they must leave the home and have their lives disrupted when they are experiencing abuse, rather than the perpetrator leaving. This is an expectation that is still reinforced by policy, programs and practices across the city. These experiences are just a few reasons why we need strategies and budgets that take into account the needs of women as well as work to close the gender gap.
Despite a long history of women’s policy advocacy, the idea that women’s interests should be incorporated into the policy process is still relatively new. From our experience, integrating an intersectional gender analysis to policies, services and programs requires dedicated time, resources, capacity building, constant community engagement as well as a willingness for change. We believe that a city-wide Gender Equity Strategy and Gender Equality Office would meet these needs.
We would also like to emphasize that this work does not have to happen alone. Women’s advocates and organizations across the city have a long history of this work and we know that our communities are keen and waiting to share their expertise, tools and strategies for achieving gender-responsive policy and budgets. We also encourage the Gender Equality Office to closely engage the community in driving priorities.
WomanACT regularly engages community agencies and women across the city to identify needs and develop policy, program and practice solutions. We find that when communities are engaged in the decision-making that affects their everyday lives, they feel more valued in their community and are more motivated to build safe, cohesive and healthy communities.
In conclusion, the stakes are incredibly high and this isn’t rocket science. We have solutions to closing the gender gap and this is one of them. We hope that the City of Toronto will demonstrate its commitment to women’s safety and gender equality.
Incoming university and college students across Canada are excited to begin a new chapter. Many parents will lecture their children on maintaining healthy study habits, keeping their dorm rooms clean and organized, and practicing good budgeting skills. Conversations some parents may not have with these young adults are about the increased risk of sexual violence across higher education campuses.
The highest rates of sexual violence on campus occur within the first year of higher education, and the most incidents occur within the first few weeks on campus (Canadian Federation of Students, 2015). The widespread availability of technology and social media has influenced sexual and health education. Subsequently, much of this media has spread misinformation on appropriate behaviours pertaining to healthy relationships and sexual activities. This missed opportunity to educate young minds on safety in dating contributes to the rise in unhealthy relationships and dating across higher education campuses in Canada. Without parental intervention, many young people are entering this uncertain period in their lives lacking clear direction, and misinformed practices on navigating safe and healthy relationships.
Recently, the Government of Ontario has released their revised version of the sexual and healthy education curriculum. The curriculum remains largely unaltered from the release in 2015, which includes much needed topics on: consent, same-sex relationships, gender, sexuality and healthy relationships. With comprehensive sexual health education curriculum, schools are well placed to facilitate conversations among young people about gender, sexuality and choice. Education is the first step in reducing sexual violence. Ontarians must learn what actions are appropriate, and which actions are respectful towards intimate partners. With education, we will be able to reduce the cycle and pervasiveness of sexual violence and rape culture.
Canadian Federation of Students. (Spring 2015). Sexual Violence on Campus. Canadian Federation of Students. Retrieved from: https://cfs-fcee.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Sexual-Violence-on-Campus.pdf
The 2019 federal election will soon be upon us and we want all federal party leaders to tell Canadians what their positions are on women’s and gender equality issues. WomanACT is proud to be a part of the Up For Debate 2019 alliance.
Up for Debate 2019 is a campaign coordinated by an alliance of women’s rights and gender equality advocates from across Canada.
The last Federal Leaders’ Debate on women’s issues in Canada was on August 14, 1984 – 35 years ago now. And yet, women, trans, non-binary, and two-spirit people in Canada still face many of the same barriers today, including:
During the 2019 federal election, the Up For Debate Alliance is calling on all federal party leaders to commit to a national televised debate to share their priorities on women’s rights and gender equality. Jagmeet Singh of the NDP and Elizabeth May of the Green Party have pledged to participate, but we’re still waiting on a commitment from the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the Bloc Québécois. When it comes time to elect our next government in 2019, we want party leaders to explain how they plan to build a more equitable Canada for all.
For information on the campaign or to sign our petition, please visit https://ywcacanada.ca/upfordebate/
By Serena Lisus-Reiter
Finding adequate and affordable housing in Toronto has become increasingly difficult. For women and children looking to leave situations of domestic violence, finding safe and affordable housing can be one of the biggest barriers standing in their way of independence and safety. As a member of the External Advisory Committee for Toronto’s new Housing Plan, HousingTO 2020 – 2030 Action Plan, WomanACT recognizes the housing crisis in Toronto as posing unique challenges to women, especially those made vulnerable by their survivor, newcomer, racialized, and/or LGBTQ2S identities.
Over the last couple of months, WomanACT looked to our community to find answers to the question of precarious housing in Toronto. We talked with women with lived experience of housing instability and/or violence and the service providers who engage with them. Consulting with communities directed impacted by violence, poverty and/or housing insecurity is key to ensuring Toronto’s new ten year housing plan adopts a gender and trauma informed approach. Ultimately, we want to find out what can be done to help marginalized women and women experiencing violence access safe, adequate, and affordable housing that is imperative to their ongoing safety and independence.
In our consultations, we asked what our community saw as challenges in finding housing in Toronto, what they would like to see prioritized, and any innovative ideas for the City to address these issues. Many expressed the lack of affordable private market units available, the long waitlist (of over 100 000 people) for social housing, and discrimination by landlords as some of their major concerns. They wanted to see the city prioritize private market rent control, the creation of more affordable housing units, the addition of more shelter beds, and more regulation to ensure fair treatment by landlords. Finally, our community shared its ideas for innovation with us as well, including talk about converting old parking lots into housing units, developing and funding self-contained family units for families fleeing violence instead of shelters, and even finding ways to support women to stay in their own homes after situations of domestic violence.
In our work with the City of Toronto’s 2020 – 2030 Housing Plan, we hope to address these unique barriers and close some of the gaps that stand between women and safe housing. WomanACT remains committed to the safety and independence of women experiencing violence, and through consulting our community, we continue to honour this commitment.
WomanACT is proud to partner with Uber as part of Uber’s Driving Change initiative, a global commitment to support and partner with leading sexual assault and domestic violence organizations around the world.
In 2017, Uber pledged $5 million to support sexual violence prevention programs, starting in the United States. This week, the initiative has expanded to include Canadian partners.
WomanACT is committed to working across sectors to create systemic change. We believe that raising awareness and engaging in national conversations on violence against women is key to getting at the root of the issue. Global movements such as “Me Too” and “TimesUp” have helped spark a global conversation on violence against women and girls, and shown just how often it is normalized. We want to build on this conversation by engaging new audiences and we see this partnership as an opportunity to reach these new audiences and raise awareness on gender-based violence.
Working alongside national and local partners, Uber’s Driving Change initiative will develop educational materials for drivers and riders and support community prevention programs.
Together, we have the opportunity to reach millions of driver-partners and riders across Canada to raise awareness, prevent gender-based violence, and promote safety within the rideshare community and throughout Canada.
“Sexual assault and gender-based violence don’t belong anywhere in our communities. Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility and one we do not take lightly. We are committed to learning from experts like WomanACT on how we can do more to prevent violence against women and to help keep people safe” - Morva Rohani, Public Policy, Uber Canada
“WomanACT is thrilled to work with Uber – bringing together community expertise with Uber’s scope and visibility will help community partners engage new audiences to raise awareness and prevent sexual and domestic violence.” – Harmy Mendoza, Executive Director, WomanACT