Equity and Inclusion in COVID-19 ResponseAugust 9, 2020
By Sawsan Al-Refaei, Partner and Stakeholder Initiatives, Community and Social Services, City of Ottawa
The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on the lives of Ottawa residents. As with most epidemics, COVID-19 has had a disproportionally negative impact on the lives of Indigenous Peoples and equity-seeking groups. It can make existing gender and other inequalities worse.
From the beginning of this crisis, the City recognized the importance of applying an equity lens to all stages of its pandemic response. An equity lens considers the differences in access to resources, experience of barriers that people have based on their socio/cultural/economic reality and demographic identities. Applying an equity and inclusion lens means to integrate mitigation strategies in policy development and resource distribution to address these differences and level the playing field.
The City of Ottawa’s Human Needs Task Force (HNTF), through its work with community partners and allies, used an intersectional and gender lens. The HNTF included staff from various departments and more than 45 community organizations working to assess local needs during the COVID-19 emergency and enhance the City’s response in collaboration with community partners to ultimately support the most at-risk people in our community. Staff, community organizations, networks, and frontline service providers continue to participate weekly in HNTF virtual meetings and continue to inform and respond to existing and emerging service gaps and needs affecting vulnerable populations.
During these meetings information is shared on how Indigenous Peoples and community equity seeking groups have experienced disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. Women, especially racialized and Indigenous women, are at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 as they are overrepresented in the “5 C jobs”: care, catering, cashier, cleaning and clerical jobs. Women are at a higher risk of abuse and gender- based violence due to limited access to social support and isolation, and youth and seniors are at risk of feeling isolated. Data continues to demonstrate the extreme mental health challenges faced by young persons, and the unique barriers faced by 2SLGBTQ+ community. Lack of technology, internet and language are main barriers faced by immigrant and refugee families to access services during the pandemic.
The City of Ottawa’s Community and Social Services Department developed a series of documents and tools that help City staff and community organizations apply an equity lens to COVID-19 response and recovery. These documents consulted national and local data and reports as well as feedback from HNTF subgroup members and other stakeholder tables such as United Way Community Response Table, OLIP Health and Wellbeing Table and CAWI weekly check-in meetings.
The Equity and Inclusion Lens is equally important in terms of COVID-19 recovery as it is during the emergency response. It is important to recognize equity barriers that may prevent equity seeking groups and Indigenous Peoples from promptly going back to their academic and professional lives. This includes ways to foresee eroded resilience of new community groups who may fall into homelessness, mental health illness and food insecurity during recovery. The Equity and Inclusion Lens to the COVID-19 response and recovery has been discussed among City staff and management and presented to several community response tables and other municipalities.
The Equity Lens documents on COVID-19 are being revised to ensure they stay current and relevant to City staff and community stakeholders. The documents will be available on City’s website in the Fall of 2020.