Edmonton

Women must be included in Alberta's economic recovery plan, says YWCA

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic shutdown and their needs must be accounted for in Alberta's economic recovery plan, the YWCAs of Alberta say in a letter to the province's economic recovery council.

Three women sit on province's 12-member economic recovery council

Katherine O'Neill, CEO of YWCA Edmonton, says Alberta's economic recovery won't be strong or sustainable if women's voices and needs aren't a major part of the discussion. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic shutdown and their needs must be accounted for in Alberta's economic recovery plan, the YWCAs of Alberta say in a letter to the province's economic recovery council.

The letter is signed by the CEOs of the YWCAs of Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Banff. It urges council chair Jack Mintz to ensure any economic strategy removes barriers to participation in the workplace for women.

The stakes will be high if women aren't included, said Katherine O'Neill, CEO of YWCA Edmonton.

"The recovery won't be strong or sustainable," O'Neill said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active. "Because when you don't remove barriers to entry for women to get back to the workforce, or you're not inclusive, you're not going to have a strong recovery."

During the pandemic shutdown, women and girls have been disproportionately affected in three main ways, said O'Neill.

First, daycare and school closures have left many women scrambling to find child care, and taking on an even larger burden of the unpaid labour inside the home.

Second, female-dominated industries, such as retail and hospitality, have experienced high numbers of job losses.

And third, spending more time at home has led to increases in domestic abuse suffered by women and girls.

The letter's first recommendation is that the government should assemble a task force to look at accessible child-care.

"If we do not have a strong child-care sector, it is going to be a huge barrier for women returning to the workforce," O'Neill said.

There is already a shortage of high-quality child-care spots in the province, she said. And finding one of those spots may get even more difficult, as some daycares will close because they are struggling financially after a prolonged shutdown.

The other recommendations include:

  • Develop a strategy to attract and retain a gender-diverse workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs.
  • Make permanent pay top-ups for frontline professionals who work with persons with disabilities, the elderly, those experiencing domestic violence or homelessness. 
  • Create capital plans to ensure municipalities can be sustainable.
  • Communicate that Alberta is a safe and inclusive province, specifically when it comes to racial inclusion and prevention of domestic abuse.
  • Consult with non-profit and charitable organizations to develop a sector resiliency plan.

Premier Jason Kenney announced the Alberta economic recovery council on March 20. It will make recommendations on economic recovery after the one-two punch of an oil-price collapse and a pandemic lockdown.

The council is made up of economists and business leaders, including council chair Mintz, who is an economist and Imperial Oil board member, and former prime minister Stephen Harper.

When the council was announced in March, critics questioned why just two of the 12 panel members were women: Nancy Southern, chair and CEO of ATCO; and Zainul Mawji, president of Telus Home Solutions.

In May, the government removed AIMCo CEO Kevin Uebelein and added a third woman to the panel — Kendra Donnelly, an owner and partner at a cattle feedlot near Acme, Alta.

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