Oxfam’s letter to the Prime Minister in advance of the throne speech

September 14, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Re: Priorities for the throne speech

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

In light of the upcoming speech to the throne, Oxfam would like to encourage your government to prioritize a feminist approach to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery. In recent months, your government has demonstrated leadership on many fronts, ensuring Canadians have access to much-needed social protection and other supports, which have been critical given the deep social and economic impacts of the pandemic on people from all walks of life. We commend your leadership in recognizing that while this virus does not discriminate, it has laid bare existing inequalities within our society, experienced most acutely by women, racialized communities and Indigenous communities, that require targeted action. As you prepare to lay out your plan for Canada’s COVID-19 recovery in the throne speech, we encourage you to ensure that measures do not exacerbate these inequalities and instead move us towards a more equal, sustainable and inclusive future. This will require a feminist recovery plan that puts the experiences of those most marginalized at the centre and brings women’s voices and solutions to the forefront.

This pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our economies, but women have been hardest hit. 1.5 million women in Canada lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. Experts have called the pandemic-induced recession a “she-cession”, as women’s participation in the labour force has fallen to 55%, the lowest in over 30 years. Concentrated in essential occupations on the frontlines of the pandemic, women make up 56% of jobs referred to as the “5Cs”: caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning, and clerical functions. These jobs are often the lowest paid, most precarious, and lack benefits such as paid sick leave. It is no coincidence that Black, Indigenous and racialized women, including recent immigrants, are overrepresented in these jobs. The pandemic has also exacerbated the burden of women’s unpaid care, with school closures and limited care and recreational services meaning that women often experience the triple duty of homeschooling, child and elder care and paid work. In a survey conducted by Oxfam Canada in June 2020, 71% of women reported feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked and ill because of increased unpaid care work.

Unless we prioritize women’s economic security and adopt measures that will support their return to work and decent working conditions, economic recovery will be unnecessarily slow. We need a feminist recovery plan that includes investments in decent work for sectors predominantly occupied by women. We also must invest in and support quality social services, especially care services on which so many women rely not only for employment, but also for the crucial services they deliver.

A feminist recovery is not only critical for our economy. It is equally important for our planet. A recovery plan cannot ignore the impacts of our current economic model on climate change and our environment. Building a feminist green economy is essential to reducing inequality, while also accelerating climate action that benefits all Canadians, particularly Indigenous communities.  By embedding social and economic inclusion into climate action strategies, we are building a more resilient economy that will help Canadians mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, which are already uprooting lives. Investing in the care sector is the smartest move Canada can make right now to advance gender equality and to grow decent jobs.  It is also a smart investment in the transition towards a low carbon economy.

At the same time, a feminist approach to COVID-19 recovery must prioritize women’s and gender-diverse people’s physical and mental security. The “shadow pandemic” of Violence against Women and Girls and Gender-Based Violence (VAWG/GBV) has significantly risen as a result of lockdown, and experts estimate a shocking increase of 61 million cases of violence and femicides globally in one year should lockdowns continue. Minister Monsef has reported a 20-30% increase in domestic violence rates across Canada, and police forces and service providers have seen as much as a 62% increase in domestic violence.  Vulnerable and marginalized women and girls – Black, Indigenous, racialized, refugee, immigrant, and low-income women and girls – have been most impacted by violence in both public and private spaces. Progress towards a National Plan on Gender-Based Violence, including one specifically to address the dire situation for Indigenous women, cannot be stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need to ensure women and gender-diverse people have a place to be safe is in fact bigger than ever.

Actions to mitigate and recover from the pandemic cannot stop at Canada’s border. In a world marked by extreme inequality, an estimated 71 million more people are facing extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19. As a global champion, now more than ever, Canada can make a difference in the lives of millions of women and gender-diverse people who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. 2020 was meant to be the year to celebrate progress towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action. Instead, we are seeing the progress made over the last 30 years unravel as women everywhere are losing their jobs and livelihoods. Now is the time to make smart investments to maximize the impact of Canada’s ground-breaking Feminist International Assistance Policy and to ensure a strong gender lens to Canada’s International Climate Finance package.

A feminist recovery plan cannot be possible without well-resourced women’s rights and feminist organizations and networks to provide valuable insights and lead solutions. Their voices must be at the heart of design and decision-making. It is key that any budget allocations – domestically and globally – take into account sustainable funding and resources to the women’s rights sector, and ensures that they are consulted partners in any decision-making processes in a COVID-19 recovery plan.

Now is the time for new and bold investments that lay the ground for a more equal, sustainable and inclusive future. Oxfam Canada and Oxfam-Québec would like to suggest the following priorities for you to spearhead in the throne speech:

Invest in the care sector by creating a national child care system that builds on Quebec’s success in providing affordable, inclusive and quality child care and by expanding social infrastructure in long-term and home care. This must be complemented by a workforce strategy that ensures care workers have decent working conditions and receive living wages. Legislate at least 14 paid sick days and paid family leave for all workers.

Invest in a green economy by creating targeted federal programs for women and gender-diverse people to access green jobs and green business development opportunities, particularly those who are already experiencing economic insecurity and marginalization due to race, age, disability and Indigenous identity. Introduce a Just Transition Act in Parliament by the end of 2020, focus on diversification and energy transition planning in regions of Canada where workers and communities have become overly dependent on fossil fuel extraction, and eliminate federal support and subsidies to fossil fuel extraction, exploration and infrastructure, including Export Development Canada’s support to the oil and gas sector.

Invest in ending violence against women and girls by fast-tracking the National Action Plan on ending VAWG/GBV, with sufficient funding for roll-out and implementation, and in close consultation with domestic women’s rights and feminist organizations. Ensure a separate plan for Indigenous women and girls that proposes concrete action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in consultation with Indigenous organizations and networks. Sustain funding to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres so that they can remain open.

Invest in the Feminist International Assistance Policy by doubling annual ODA from $6.2B to $12.4B over five years and allocating new and additional $2B for COVID-19 response interventions. Prioritize investments in programming that addresses unpaid and paid care, sexual and reproductive health and rights, VAWG/GBV and climate change. Invest an additional $6.76B in climate finance over the next five years.

Invest in the women’s rights sector by providing long-term, flexible and core funding to women’s rights organizations. Ensure members of Canada’s vibrant women’s rights sector have access to the relevant policy spaces, and are consulted by key decision-makers, in the development of any recovery strategies.

Exceptional times require exceptional measures. Together, we can lay the groundwork for a better future – for Canada and the world – that leaves no one behind.


Kate Higgins, Interim Executive Director, Oxfam Canada &

Denise Byrnes, Directrice génerale, Oxfam-Québec

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