City's women and gender strategy gets committee approval, goes to council in April

·2 min read
The document approved Friday by the community and protective services committee still needs full Ottawa council support. (Jean-Sebastien Marier/CBC - image credit)
The document approved Friday by the community and protective services committee still needs full Ottawa council support. (Jean-Sebastien Marier/CBC - image credit)

Councillors on a city committee have approved what could become Ottawa's first strategy to make women and gender-diverse people feel safe and included in every part of city business, from the services offered to the public to decisions made by council.

"We have to look at the way we look at each other, the way we hire, the way we treat our staff," said Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, the council liaison for women and gender equity.

The document approved Friday by the community and protective services committee still needs full council support, with a meeting planned for April 14.

It calls for more data to understand how various groups are represented in the city's work and its workforce, and training to boost awareness among employees about stigma and discrimination.

The city's women and gender-equity specialist, Sawsan Al-Refaei, pointed to specific items to tackle, such as reviewing municipal harassment policies, offering free menstrual products in some community centres and expanding a federal-provincial affordable housing subsidy to more women who are fleeing violence.

"A gender analysis will inform all important decisions from here on in," added Kavanagh.

'Hard-won efforts'

Erin Leigh of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women noted the "hard-won efforts" by city staff to come up with the strategy. She pointed out it comes with no extra funding, and is worried the work by Al-Refaei might end up "siloed".

"City-wide transformation cannot be achieved on the shoulders of one person," she said, calling for leads on women and gender diversity in each city department.

This is just the first step of the strategy, and Leigh pushed for the second phase to be better funded when it rolls around in 2023.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, council liaison for women and gender equity, says the new strategy is just a start.
Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, council liaison for women and gender equity, says the new strategy is just a start.(CBC)

Kavanagh, however, was hopeful because the strategy was written to line up with other high-level plans by the city.

"It's not just some nice little report that's going to sit there on its own," said Kavanagh.

City senior leaders also pledged to be accountable in seeing the changes take place.

'Tip of the iceberg'

Kavanagh, who was named council liaison after her election in 2018, gave credit to colleagues who spearheaded the issue in the last term of council.

Coun. Diane Deans remembered visiting Montreal with her colleague, Coun. Catherine McKenney, a few years ago to hear about that city's women and gender equity strategy. Both had taken part in the big women's march in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

"I think we were both left kind of shocked by how far behind the City of Ottawa was," said Deans, explaining their determination to push for a local Ottawa version.

While Deans sees the document as a "milestone," she says it's just "the tip of the iceberg.

"There is a lot more work that needs to be done."