The Path Out of Poverty for Women
Oral Presentation to the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
January 17, 2020
Good morning, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee. My name is Jasmine Ramze Rezaee. I am the Manager of Advocacy at YWCA Toronto. Joining me this morning is Tsering Tsomo, our Director of Employment and Training.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today about the various issues that are of critical importance to women in our province.
YWCA Toronto is a leading women’s organization. Each year, we serve over 13,000 girls, women and gender-diverse individuals in more than 30 programs across the City from Scarborough to Etobicoke. Our wraparound services range from housing and shelter for women and their families, to employment and training programs including settlement services for newcomers, girls’ specific programs, a child care centre, and programs geared towards the wellbeing of women who have experienced violence.
We are also part of a broader YWCA Ontario Coalition representing 12 Member Associations in the province from Hamilton to Sudbury. We have over 100 years of experience serving and responding to the needs of women, women-led families and girls. We are a subject matter expert on gender, and we are a key service provider in the communities we work.
We can say with absolute certainty that every social, political and economic issue in our province is a woman’s issue. A gender equity lens can be applied to all of these things. Women are impacted by the labour market, the housing market, the rising cost of living, by the rise of working poverty and precarious employment – but they are experiencing these challenges in distinct and nuanced ways.i
For example, the lack of affordable housing for women is a safety issue. Gender-based violence is a primary driver of women’s homelessness.ii The growing cost of child care in our province disproportionately impacts women because women tend to be primary caregivers. Access to child care is critical to ensuring women’s labour market participation. Black, Indigenous and immigrant women face a gender and racial wage gap.iii The rate of sexual violence in our province is actually increasing and harming so many lives.iv These issues, and many more, are closely connected and require substantial government action.
YWCA Toronto has a long and proud history of partnership with the Province of Ontario in working towards full equality for women and girls. Many of our programs, like our violence against women shelters and our employment programs for newcomer women, are either partially or fully funded by the province. Some of our programs, like our Girls’ Centre (one of only a few in Canada) should be, but are not, funded by any level of government.
We are witnessing two trends that have caused us a great deal of concern: the rising poverty and inequality in our province along gender and racial lines, and the lack of awareness about the gendered impacts of such inequities.
Our province is increasingly unaffordable with an estimated 450,000 women living on low incomes. Women are disproportionately over-represented in single-parent families and in precarious employment. It is the poverty of women that is behind the poverty of so many children in our province. As I am sure many will mention today, social assistance rates are not high enough to make ends meet. There are many people on OW and ODSP who suffer in silence and who will never reach their potential because of the sheer poverty levels perpetuated by our social welfare system. So we strongly believe that social assistance rates should be increased and that the system should undergo progressive reforms.v
We also believe that employment offers a path out of poverty. Good jobs, that is, skilled jobs that enable women to earn high incomes so they can save money and plan for the future, are the kinds of jobs that lift families out of poverty. This is precisely why YWCA Toronto offers specific employment and training programs that support women to gain entry into the skilled trades.
The Toronto Star recently featured one of our skilled trades programs for women that is funded by the Province.vi I spoke to the manager of that program and she shared how of the 15 women who graduated last year, 11 had job offers before the program even ended. She also said that despite this success, funding agreements are allotted on a year-by-year basis. Because of funding uncertainty, it is hard to retain staff, to properly respond to future needs, to offer continuity of service, and to really solidify relationships with employers. It is also hard to scale up programs that offer evidence-based solutions to labour market challenges when core funding is not available.
Due to these short-term, project-based funding agreements, we struggle to recruit and retain talent because we are forced to offer contract, part-time and casual work to women. Ideally, we should be offering permanent, full-time salaried positions but this is simply not feasible for many of our programs given current funding models.
In addressing poverty, we must not forget the impact on children and youth. We operate a Girls’ Centre in Scarborough that is not funded by any level of government. The girls that access our programs navigate issues related to food security, gender-based violence, community violence, racism and sexism. Girl-only spaces are essential because they provide a safe space for girls to voice their concerns and express themselves. By being exposed to peers that are confident, capable and in other leadership roles, girls are inspired to look at their own capacities in a positive light. We pride ourselves in building such anti-oppressive, inclusive, safe and girl-positive spaces. However, it has been a struggle to keep our doors open due to the lack of government funding.
The Province should seriously consider the challenges facing girls and the unique position of women-centred organizations in supporting them.
Women and girls are drivers of change. Evidence from around the world confirms that investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but for families, communities, and regions. When girls and women do well, everyone benefits.
2019 proved to be a prosperous year for the province.vii The economy is growing, wealth is expanding but Black, Indigenous and racialized women are falling behind. We urge you to prioritize closing the gender and racial wealth gap in our province and substantially invest in pathways out of poverty for women. When you invest in gender equality, society becomes safer, more livable and prosperous.
Again, every issue is a woman’s issue. We hope you will place equity considerations, and especially the needs of women and girls, front and centre when evaluating your priorities for Budget 2020.
Jasmine Ramze Rezaee is the Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto.
i The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2019, The Centre of Policy Alternatives: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/best-and-worst-places-be-woman-canada-2019
ii Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: https://www.ontario.ca/page/poverty-reduction-strategy-annual-report-2017
iii The Working Poor: In the Ontario Region, Metcalf Foundation: https://metcalffoundation.com/publication/the-working-poor-in-the-toronto-region-a-closer-look-at-the-increasing-numbers/ and OCASI http://www.ocasi.org/sites/default/files/OCASI_Submission_Status_of_Women_Committee_May_2017.pdf
v For example, as recommended by the Income Security Advocacy Centre in various reports: http://incomesecurity.org/resources/publications/
vi Program arms women with credentials in fight against poverty, The Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/unitedway/2019/11/16/program-arms-women-with-credentials-in-fight-against-poverty.html
vii As documented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2019/11/29/five-things-about-next-ontario-budget/