Nfld. & Labrador

Inequality is in plain view during COVID-19 pandemic, and this group has ideas to change that

A panel is urging government to follow a five-point plan to address issues of inequality.

Panellists urge government to follow five-point plan to address issues facing women, marginalized groups

From left: Paula Sheppard Thibeau, Laura Winters and Amanda Bittner outlined a five-point plan to help women and other marginalized groups. (CBC)

Before Newfoundland and Labrador embarks on reopening the economy, a panel of women dedicated to equality is urging the provincial government to use this time to address underlying gender-based problems.

The St. John's Status of Women hosted an online panel Tuesday with Laura Winters, the organization's executive director Laura Winters; Paula Sheppard Thibeau, co-chair of the Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women; and Memorial University political science professor Amanda Bittner.

The panellists agreed the provincial government has been failing to see the pandemic through a feminist lens but said it's not too late to start changing the way things work.

"We've had a real good opportunity now to see what we really consider essential and we need to start from there," said Sheppard Thibeau.

"We need to put money where it counts and that means looking at things like child care, elder care and living wages."

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to recognize which services are essential. Sheppard Thibeau says the provincial government should invest in those areas, such as elder care. (Shutterstock)

During the pandemic, the panellists said, women have been on the front lines, where they constitute the majority of health-care workers.

"Women are going to work to care for us all then come home and then care more for their family members, whether they are children or parents or family members who need extra care," Bittner said.

Further, many of the jobs that have been jeopardized by the pandemic, such as the retail and food sectors, are predominantly filled by women. Those jobs, Bittner said, are already undervalued and underpaid.

Issues like domestic violence, livable wages, access to child care and a lack of women in leadership have always been underlying problems, but they've now become exacerbated by the pandemic.

For instance, across Canada there has been an increase in domestic violence calls, and closer to home there is anecdotal evidence violence is increasing as women are trapped at home with their abusers.

"We're calling on immediate changes to be made so that any effort to rebuild the economy have equitable outcomes for all," Winters said.

Using a feminist recovery plan from the State of Hawaii as a guide, the group outlined five key areas where they say the provincial government must act. Some ideas require political will, while others require money and a shift in government thinking:

  • Ensure women are in leadership roles.
  • Create a central phone line for victims of domestic abuse.
  • Create a task force on domestic violence.
  • Raise the minimum wage to a living wage.
  • Provide free child care.

The panellists also agreed that marginalized groups cannot be an afterthought in the province's post-pandemic planning.

While the pandemic will push the province even closer to the brink of financial ruin, Bittner said looking at the problem through a different lens will help government put money where it's most beneficially for everyone.

Bittner says some women are facing a double burden of having to work on the front lines of COVID-19 without the ability to send their children to school or to child care. (Erik White/CBC)

"If the province provides child care, if the country provides child care, then these people can actually work. It's how you think about this issue," she said.

"Our money should not go into things we have been putting money into for ages that benefits certain kinds of sectors, certain kinds of industries and certain kinds of workers — usually men."

The group plans to submit its proposal to government.

However, at least one MHA was watching the live-streamed event.

Mount Scio Liberal MHA Sarah Stoodley commented that she will ramp up her internal lobbying efforts in support of the panel's ideas.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.