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“There will be no recovery without a ‘she-covery’”


On October 8, Women United hosted its first-ever Disruptive Dialoguea virtual event which brought women together to learn from United Way and our partners about the most pressing social issues facing our communities. Exploring the gendered impact of COVID-19, attendees heard from Sawsan Al-Refaei, a gender equity specialist from the City of Ottawa on key areas of impact. 

According to Sawsan, we are seeing:

  • Greater exposure to infection and increased health burden among women.
  • High risk of violence against women, gender-based violence and higher protection needs and community support.
  • Increased risk of food insecurity and loss of livelihood and income in women-led households.
  • Lack of women and gender sensitive data on COVID19.
  • Women and girls may not all be reached though current communication strategies.

If the response to COVID-19 is to be effective and not reproduce or perpetuate gender and health inequities, Sawson says “it is important that gender norms, roles, relations that influence vulnerability to infection, and access to treatment and health messages are considered and addressed.” 

“There will be no recovery without a ‘she-covery’” shared Valerie Stam, executive director of the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI), who among many others, is calling for bold moves and intersectional policies from municipal governments, funders and community partners. 

Sawsan Al-Refaei

While both men and women equally lost their jobs when COVID-19 forced world-wide shutdowns, according to Statistics Canada, most of the jobs recovered belonged to men (67 per cent). From February to September of 2020, there were still approximately 350,000 jobs that were lost and still not recovered. Women bear the brunt of these job losses, making up 85 per cent of the group.

Christine Lauzon-Foley, senior director of policy, planning and investment at United Way East Ontario, was the final speaker of the event. She believes that now more than ever, we need to use our skills, expertise, time and resources to shine a light on the issues facing local women. 

“We, together as a community, have to fight for these women. We have to be the voice of those women who can’t speak for themselves."

The power of United Way

Thanks to the Emergency Community Support Fund, the New Horizons for Seniors Program and donations from generous donors who gave to United Way’s Local Love in a Global Crisis campaign, we invested 28 per cent of these funds in strategies and programs that directly support local women. We applied an equity lens to the information and data gathered in order to make informed decisions in our investment process. 

United Way was able to provide both financial aid and in-kind donations of technology to women fleeing violence, so that they could stay connected to support systems and their children could continue with their schooling. 

We also continue to work with our partners to provide vulnerable members of our communities with basic needs such as food, hygiene products and personal protective equipment (PPE). As part of this, we made caregiver kits available throughout our region’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods for people caring for aging spouses or elderly parents, many of which are women.  

Why Women United? Why now? 

As a part of United Way East Ontario, Women United invests in vulnerable women across our region to ensure that they have every opportunity to thrive at every stage of their lives. Now more than ever, this work is critical, as the issues vulnerable women faced in regular times have been amplified as a result of the pandemic.  

Members of Women United have the ability to direct their funds towards programs and initiatives supporting local women in order to move the needle forward on issues that directly impact their day-to-day lives. They are also an integral part of United Way’s work towards the advancement of women’s rights and the fight for equality. 

As a community, we need to ensure that COVID-19 response plans are created and implemented with a gendered lens with a focus on supporting women who are: facing violence, carrying the dual burden of care, working in low-wage frontline jobs, and/or are otherwise vulnerable and marginalized. We need to make sure that the services that cater to these issues continue to be available to the women and girls that need them. 

It takes all levels of government, local partners, and above all, concerned and engaged members of the community like you to advocate, raise awareness, and work with partners like United Way to ensure pandemic responses are effective and do not perpetuate gender and health inequities. 

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