Thank you to all who came out on January 18 for my 2018 Town Hall on Gender-Responsive Budgeting. For the second year in a row, residents from Ward 27 and across the Toronto gathered at the 519 Community Centre to discuss and workshop gender equity in the Toronto city budget. My team and I were blown away by the level of participation and excitement for gender-equity budgeting as a catalyst for long-term, sustainable equitable service delivery in Toronto.
THE BURDEN OF POVERTY IS CARRIED BY WOMEN
We heard from residents about the urgent need for a gender-based analysis in the budget. The burden of ongoing budget cuts and the lack of investment in social services fall largely on the shoulders of women and girls, especially those who are racialized and low-income.
These systemic failures are shocking. In Toronto, 37% of single mother-led families in live in poverty. 59% of minimum wage workers are women and over 25% are precariously employed. According to YWCA Toronto, Toronto's largest women's organization, the annual child care fees are $19,200 a year while the average annual salary for women is $32,000. 70% of part-time workers are women, who are not eligible for subsided childcare.
The exorbitant cost of housing further marginalize women and worsen the detrimental cycle of poverty and violence. According to Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), the number one reason why women are unable to leave violent relationships is the lack of safe, affordable housing. And while the world wakes up to the realities and prevalence of intimate-partner violence, the City of Toronto has not acted on a gender-based violence strategy. And still, women earn 75.3% of what men earn for the same job. Racialized and trans women experience an even larger pay gap.
These are not merely statistics. They are human realities and lived experiences of women in our city – women that carry the burden of poverty. Over 170 engaged participants at my second Town Hall on Gender-Responsive Budgeting confirmed what I always knew: the residents of Toronto care deeply about equity and social justice. We care about building a fair and inclusive city that meets the needs of all residents. We are witnessing first-hand how massive service gaps are further exacerbating gender inequity.
WHY GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING?
Gender-responsive budgeting allows for services to better reach those who need it the most. Placing an intersectional gender equity lens allows us to look at the social, cultural, and economic differences between women and men and how these differences can perpetuate disparities in access to public resources. Gender-responsive budgeting encourages decision-makers and policy-makers to address how men and women experience city services differently to ultimately reflect these differences in the budget planning process.
By incorporating a gender equity lens over the city budgets, we can ensure resources are more fairly allocated to serve ALL residents. Better budgets equal better services. The shameful truth is, despite the many commitments to equity, Toronto City Council has never adopted a woman-friendly budget. The waitlists for accessible childcare, recreation services, shelter supports, affordable housing and other essential services continue to grow.
Cities across the world have created different forms of gender-responsive budgeting with the purpose of advancing gender equity. Even the 2016 federal budget contained a historic Gender Statement outlining the main challenges and economic inequalities facing Canadian women. It's time for Toronto City Council to put talk into action.
WHY WE NEED GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING
"I need gender equity in the budget because: Equity plans like the Poverty Reduction Strategy have been approved, but remain unfunded. A gender-responsive budgeting framework would bring to light to dire need for investment in social services over massive infrastructure projects such as a 1-stop subway in Scarborough that will reduce service."- Participant
"Toronto's City Budget needs more funding for: Low-income, affordable and supportive housing. This must be priority. Women cannot survive without investment in safe, affordable housing. This way residents can focus on other basic needs, such as food, transit, health and raising healthy families. Investing in women helps build strong communities." – Participant
"Toronto's City Budget needs more funding for: services for LGBTQ, racialized & marginalized people, mixed-income housing, community recreation services, parks and green space, mental health supports, and shelter for women and children fleeting violence." –Participant
KEY INSIGHTS VOICED BY RESIDENTS
During the facilitated round-table discussions, affordable housing, transit, and childcare were some of the top issues that were discussed. Participants stressed the need for affordable housing to be more of a priority in the city budget. Participants called for the budget process and consultations on the City budget to be more accessible and inclusive. Currently, there are a number of barriers that prevent the full participation of constituents in the City budget planning process. This needs to change to ensure the City budget reflects the needs and concerns of Torontonians.
We increased investment in low-income, affordable housing. We need to prioritize repairs to Toronto Community Housing apartments. We need increased mixed income housing and inclusionary zoning. Housing must be more of a priority on the budget. We need to eliminate waitlist for community housing. TCH residents need to be included in consultations on expansion projects.
Women should not be denied services and shelters need increased funding. We need increased shelter for women and children fleeing violence. We need more safe, supportive and transitional housing. There are not enough spaces in women's shelters and shelter system needs to be more accommodating for those with disabilities. We need better data collection to understand how women are being marginalized by the shelter system.
Women and children should not be living in poverty in a rich country. Childcare should not cost between $1500-$2000/month. Affordable childcare will better enable women to work. More needs to be invested into childcare in the budget. The City is failing on child care! There is a need for focus on women and children in the budget.
A MORE ACCESSIBLE BUDGET PROCESS
The budget process needs to be open and inclusive. Women are unintentionally marginalized from the budget process because it happens over the holiday season, and 3 days is too short for infrastructure consultation. We need better outreach strategies for communities. Perhaps create an online tool to engage more Torontonians in the budget process. There is a disconnect between the structure and the people struggling. Current deputation process has many barriers: time and location. We need true participatory budgeting and the process should be ongoing all year. We need more people with lived experience at roundtables with decision-makers.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ACTIVE PARTICIPATION
Thank you to Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau who partook in special fireside chat on gender-responsive budgeting, as well as our expert panelist Leila Sarangi from Women's Habitat of Etobicoke, Sheila Block from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colette Prevost from YWCA Toronto, and Kate Bezanson, Associate Professor from Brock University and gender equity researcher. Thank you to our partners YWCA Toronto, 519 Community Centre, Women's Habitat of Etobicoke, Library Union 4849, and Toronto Women's City Alliance. Thank you to our photographer Jenny Veloso.
Thank you to all participants who joined together for vibrant and passionate discussions that highlighted the importance of gender-responsive budgeting. We look forward to continuing the conversation at City Hall and advocating for gender equity in the Toronto budget.