October is Women’s History Month, and to kick off the month on October 11th we celebrated the International Day of the Girl. The theme this year by the United Nations was ‘My voice, our equal future’.
As we reflected on the theme, we realized that there are opportunities in our post-pandemic recovery to centre the perspectives of young women.
Young women have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis, but little attention has been given to their experiences in the pandemic response. Giving young women and non-binary people a voice will enable more equal futures that benefit us all. We just need to take them up.
That’s why when the government revealed in their Throne Speech a ‘feminist, intersectional response to this pandemic and recovery’, we were relieved.
However, notably absent were targeted measures to support young women and non-binary people.
The fact is, we can’t have any economic recovery if we don’t consider the unique needs of young women and non-binary people. In a crisis that has well-documented gendered impacts on women’s labour market participation and social wellbeing, we have yet to properly consider how the situation is even more dire for a younger generation.
Young people have faced shocks to their earnings, job security, skills training, educational attainment and mental wellbeing. Young women between the ages of 15 to 24 made up 59% of the total job losses in March and over one-third of job losses faced by women. Despite gains over the last few months, youth employment remains furthest from pre-COVID-19 levels, especially for young women.
Evidence highlights labour market disruption can have a long-term scarring effect. This is even more so for people who are just starting off in their career. With reports that the economic impacts of the crisis will be felt for nearly a decade, people in their 20s are especially vulnerable from suffering long-standing bouts of unemployment, underemployment and job stagnation. This is not a short term issue. If left unaddressed, COVID-19 induced youth unemployment can affect an entire generation’s future prospects.
The toll on mental health for young women cannot be understated. In a recent Accenture survey, conducted across seven countries, 61 percent of young women said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health, whereas 45 percent of young men said so. Young women, and in particular Black and Indigenous young women in Canada, are supporting the well-being of entire communities.
G(irls)20’s mission is to advance young women in decision-making spaces. We have seen how when given a platform, a young woman will use it to advance the needs of her entire community. And as YWCA Canada and the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) pointed out in their Feminist Economic Recovery Plan, we need diverse voices in decision making to create an economy that works for everyone.
We are concerned that young women are being shut out of the rooms where pandemic responses are developed. Globally, we’ve seen nations and advisory committees far and wide failing on this. A recent survey of 30 countries found that women (of all ages) made up only 23% of COVID-19 response committees.
As the Government of Canada rolls out their Task Force for Canada’s Action Plan on Women in the Economy, we’ll be looking for diverse intersectional representation in its makeup.
We have a considerable foundation to leverage such as the Prime Minister’s Youth Council and organizations across the country that support youth in making an impact in decision making spaces like G(irls)20 and Young Diplomats of Canada. We also need to look beyond formal leadership training grounds, to ensure the young women most affected by the pandemic – whether those working in retail and hospitality, those working on the frontlines as essential workers, and those without a platform – can participate in our country’s recovery.
We must also raise concerns about the limited data on the experiences of non-binary people in this crisis. The continued binary nature of data collection on gender excludes an even more marginalized group from decision-making. This needs to change.
Canada has a real opportunity to set the stage for an equitable recovery that helps us build back better with gender equality at the core. That can’t happen though without the full participation of all members of society, including young women and non-binary people. Now is the time to lift up the voices and perspectives of youth as they will be dealing with the consequences of this time, both good and bad, for decades to come. That means representation from Millennial and Gen Z voices and a robust intergenerational lens on policy decisions.
We look forward to being partners in ensuring the post-pandemic recovery is as inclusive and impactful as possible.
Anjum Sultana (@AnjumSultana) is the National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada as well as Co-Author and Operations Lead of A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada. Bailey Greenspon (@baileygreenspon) is the Acting Co-CEO of G(irls)20.