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Quebec's Timid Plan to Counteract the Impacts of the Pandemic on Women Misses Its Mark

March 16th, 2021
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As part of International Women's Rights Day, we salute the effort made by the Gouvernement du Québec in launching its new Plan d’action pour contrer les impacts sur les femmes en contexte de pandémie ("Action Plan to Counteract the Impacts of the Pandemic on Women"). An amount of $23.1 million, which has already been distributed, was allocated to this plan. As specified by the Minister for the Status of Women, Isabelle Charest, the 24 actions in this one-year plan are "targeted actions that plan for short-term interventions" (Communiqué, March 8, 2021). However, the pandemic's repercussions for women will extend far beyond the upcoming year.

We find this plan to be far too weak in scope compared to the actions needed. It lacks teeth—its actions are primarily centered around information campaigns. Structural measures are flagrantly absent from this plan; the government is counting on changes in behaviour at an individual scale.

 

Not a Plan to Counteract the Effects of the Pandemic on Women, But an Economic Recovery Plan

Rather than addressing the unequal impacts of the pandemic, this plan aligns with the economic recovery plan from the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, which bears little resemblance to a feminist recovery plan.

The plan's proposed measures don't act on issues that are specific to women, even while it mentions these issues in its opening sections. Instead, they target women's employability in male-dominated fields (objective 1), such as construction, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It is true that more women than men lost their jobs and left the labour market during the pandemic. However, we find it disappointing that the job fields most impacted by the pandemic, which are largely female-dominated, are not targeted by specific measures within the plan. Even more frustrating, the first of two actions associated with this objective offer only a symbolic recognition (measure 5.1) while the other (measure 5.2) simply restates the old chestnut about how typically female-dominated occupations are under-valued…

 

Female Essential Workers: Royally Overlooked

The pandemic has revealed the critical status of a number of essential fields that are kept afloat by women. To give some examples, the fields of health and social services, education, community organizations, essential businesses and the service industry. These women, alongside other marginalized workers, have been impacted the most by the crisis. In order to offer a response at the level of their needs, a massive reinvestment in social programs, public services and the community sector is more necessary than ever.

 

An Information Campaign When It's Beyond Time for Action!

The majority of the measures in this plan are intended to raise awareness, provide information and encourage the implementation of voluntary actions. In the end, this plan is an admission of failure on the part of the Legault government on the issue of differential gender-based analysis (GBA). It's ironic, and even shocking, that the government considers merely informing ministers about how to apply a GBA (measure 2.1) to be a groundbreaking action! This raises alarming flags about the application of the indispensable intersectional analysis (GBA+) which considers the impacts on women who face multiple forms of discrimination.

We do salute the promise of a longitudinal study on women's health (measure 2.2), with the caveat that the expertise of women's groups should be an essential contribution to this study.

 

Lack of Structural Measures to Support Women

The fourth objective in the plan is especially intriguing for autonomous community action (ACA) groups, who offer "support for women in vulnerable circumstances" (objective 4). We recognize the importance of regularly allocating funds to organizations that have great need for them. However, the funding is insufficient and should be recurring beyond the plan's end date.

As for the third objective, referring to family-work-study balance (FWSB), rather than focusing on communication campaigns that strive to change individual behaviours within couples (measure 3.1), it is vital to offer support programs and services to families and make more spaces in daycare centres accessible, regardless of parental immigration status.

 

Looking to the Next Budget

COVID recovery must include all the components that are essential to society's functioning, including unpaid labour. This goes alongside massive reinvestments into the social safety net (as promoted by the collective campaign Engagez-vous pour le communautaire "Get Involved for the Community Sector"). It is the government's responsibility to pay close attention to the impacts of its policies on women. Eloquent studies have already demonstrated the primary impacts that require urgent action.[1]

It is beyond time for all government policies to be required to contribute equitably to improving living conditions for all women.  

 

Signatories

Regroupement intersectoriel des organismes communautaires de Montréal (RIOCM)

Regroupement des organismes communautaires famille de Montréal (ROCFM)

Réseau d’action des femmes en santé et services sociaux (RAFSSS)

Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal (TGFM)

 

[1] See the latest publication from the Institut de recherche et d’informations socioéconomiques (IRIS): Inégales dans la tourmente (in French).

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