At the moment it feels like the world is changing at a head-spinning pace. The twin crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic shocks are leaving us all reeling. But even in the midst of the chaos, there are reasons for optimism too.
Our focus during this time has been on three key areas:
- implementing our own feminist approach to our organization’s response;
- ensuring flexible support of our grantee partners around the world; and
- watching for the gendered impacts of both the pandemic and the economic instability.
What we do know is that while everything is changing right now, much of it is also the same.
How the Equality Fund Organization is Responding
Like many around the world, the Equality Fund moved to keep our team and the public safe by halting our travel and canceling several events as the potential impact of COVID-19 became more clear. As the world—and our government—started taking concrete action last week, like so many organizations we began working remotely. After all, our number one priority at this time is the health and safety of our team and our partners.
At the recommendation of public health authorities, the Equality Fund will work remotely for as long as necessary—assessing the situation as it develops. Though we are well-equipped to work this way because of our organization’s flexible and optional work-from-home culture, the new reality of child and elderly care that social distancing has created will present new challenges that we are working together to navigate.
We developed a set of working principles for the Equality Fund team to guide us through this period of uncertainty and disruption:
- We trust that each of us is doing her or his best;
- We anticipate and acknowledge significant work disruptions;
- We expect each team member to be clear about her or his reality and we will do our very best to accommodate and support those needs;
- We need to know what can and cannot be advanced during this time;
- We commit to frequent communication; and
- We commit to deepening our understanding and publicly sharing the unique gendered impacts of the pandemic.
What do these look like in practice? It means understanding that schedules are hard to manage with children, parents, and pets around. It means understanding that WiFi bandwidth needs to be rationed between partners working from home. It means recognizing the need to step away from the computer, go outside, and take care of our well-being. It means checking in with one another on how we are doing, really. It means finding and sharing humour at the end of meetings and setting up virtual coffee dates. It means prioritizing our work and communicating more intentionally with colleagues using new tools and platforms. It means offering to help. It means sharing what the (lack of) work-life balance really feels like.
Most importantly it means believing in our colleagues and trusting that we are all doing the best we can.
This has not changed.
We also recognize that our ability to shift operations to remote work is a privilege not shared by many.
We are privileged to be building what we hope will be one of the world’s largest feminist institutions. While we are designing and building the Equality Fund, we commit to doing this in line with our feminist values and cultivating an organizational culture that will survive and thrive despite the pandemic response. We believe our own organization and staff members need the same flexible support and trust as our grantee partners on the ground.
How the Equality Fund is Supporting Our Grantee Partners
We believe in supporting women- and youth-led organizations with flexible core funding that allows them to do what is needed to further their impact.
This has not changed.
For our grantee partners, we understand that this pandemic and the health and political responses to it may already be changing the ways they move, work, and live. We remain committed to honouring our partnerships with additional flexibility and enhanced communication and accompaniment. We have assured them that we support them to take necessary health and safety precautions, whatever that requires.
We are also listening to stories of how the amazing organizations we support are shifting their work to meet the needs of their communities. For example, one partner in Lebanon has adjusted their work to distribute pertinent health information to marginalized groups, including communities and camps that are also hosting refugees from Syria. They, too, are working from their homes and using available resources to reach women with the information they need.
Time and time again, feminist organizations and movements pivot and kick into gear in times of crisis using the assets and opportunities they have to make a difference. This is still true in the midst of this pandemic.
We will be sharing more impactful stories in the coming weeks.
Recognizing the Role of Gender in the Pandemic
We are receiving emails from other organizations, vendors, restaurants, governments, to name only a few. Communications, analysis, and news updates are coming at us at an incredible pace.
We are committed to learning about and highlighting the unequal and unique gendered impacts in our communications and emphasizing the ways in which women and girls remain at the frontlines of caring for their families and communities.
This crisis is and will continue to exacerbate the structural inequality that already existed before it started. The pandemic has shown how truly precarious the system is, especially for service workers, single parents, healthcare workers, domestic abuse survivors, sex workers, labour rights, and more. Crises like COVID-19 exacerbate inequality, whether that is based on gender, race, ability, health status, nationality, or any combination of these systemic disadvantages.
We have seen mainstream news outlets cover the repercussions of the pandemic for women including Time Magazine (Why the Coronavirus outbreak could hit women the hardest), The Telegraph (Here’s the problem with telling women in abusive relationships to self-isolate), The New York Times (Why Women May Face a Greater Risk of Catching Coronavirus), to name a few. There is also some useful analysis from The Center for Global Development and others focused on how COVID-19 Affect Women and Girls in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. There is more awareness even of more specific issues that face women in the growing crisis in other areas—for example, sex work in different parts of the world—Jamaica and The Netherlands. Just as gender analysis in media stories is on the rise, so too is the consideration of gender in policy making and emergency response.
The Government of Canada’s economic aid package announced on March 18 includes $50M for shelters and sexual assault centres to support people fleeing gender-based violence. The government has recognized the dangers of asking people to stay in an unsafe home and has strengthened support for our institutions offering safe havens in an uncertain world.
These are all signs of hope. Yet, there is so much more work to do.