Ontario Basic Income Pilot: Statement of Support

The conversation around basic income has been gaining traction in Ontario, with the provincial government releasing a pilot program survey that will be open until January 31st.  The gist of a basic income program is to grant everyone a base ‘livable’ amount of money per month on a sliding scale that decreases the amount a person gets depending on how much they make from work or other sources.  Unlike some other forms of income assistance, basic income is a safety net that isn’t dependent upon working, looking for work, having to stop working in order to qualify, or proving disability.  (A full report on the project from the Ministry of Community and Social Services is available here.)  We at RFU support the concept of basic income because, if implemented properly, it would make a considerable material difference to countless women.

The Feminization of Poverty: Women have higher rates of poverty than men virtually everywhere.  Women as a class also have more burden of responsibility for others in terms of money, time, and energy.  Poverty is, of course, also correlated to race and immigrant status: women of colour, First Nations women, and immigrant women make up a high percentage of low-paying, difficult, and insecure jobs like Personal Support Workers.  Women and girls living in poverty are at high risk of entering prostitution in order to survive.

Abuse and toxic relationships: Financial dependence is the primary factor that forces women to stay in abusive or otherwise toxic relationships.  In addition to women’s higher rates of poverty in general, abusers usually isolate women from other sources of support in order to cultivate their dependence and destroy their sense of functionality.  Making rent alone can be extremely difficult, especially in a place like Toronto, so many women feel forced to move in with partners or parents even though the power imbalance in the arrangement can be detrimental to their well-being.

Mental and physical health: People with invisible or high-functioning health problems–mental and physical–can have a difficult time getting income assistance for their disabilities and may refuse assistance due to stigma against ‘welfare.’  Women suffer from high levels of health problems including anxiety, depression, PTSD, PCOS, and untreated pain.  Those who can work are still at the mercy of employers who are not particularly sympathetic to any need for reduced hours, flex time, or other accommodations.

Criminal records: The majority of women who have been through the prison-industrial complex are victims of male violence, child abuse, prostitution, trauma, and other forms of violence.  Many are in prison for fighting back against their abusers, and by the end of the process, will have been victimized at least three times over: by their abuser, by a legal system that fails to do justice to female victims of male-pattern violence, and by societal prejudice against criminalized people regardless of the circumstances of their case.

It’s no exaggeration to say that basic income could mean the difference between life and death for millions of women and girls in the province.  Although basic income isn’t inherently radical, it does have the potential to give workers some leverage against exploitation under capitalism by giving them leeway to reject jobs with poor working conditions, low pay, and excessive hours.

Basic income is a good idea simply because no one should live in poverty.  No one should become homeless and starve to death because they don’t make good fodder for capitalist exploitation.  No one who can work should have to choose between exploitation and poverty.  We don’t exist to be exploited for fun or profit.

RFU has sent an abridged version of this post as a joint statement in support of the Basic Income Pilot to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.  We hope that eligible readers will take the survey, and we welcome women to comment with what basic income would mean for them and what material effects it would have on their lives.

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RFU statement on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

We would like to voice our support for the Federal government’s launching of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We recognize that Canada was created by force on unceded First Nations land, and Indigenous people did not consent to be subjected to colonialist culture or law. It is our belief that this legacy of colonialism in Canada has resulted in a disproportionate level of violence impacting Aboriginal communities. The intersection of, sex, class, and race leave Aboriginal women and girls at an even greater disadvantage in Canadian society. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine factors underlying the systemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls, particularly the role of the government, coroners’ offices, and existing provincial and federal laws. However, we are disappointed that the Terms of Reference exclude the examination of police conduct.

There are those who have expressed doubts about the necessity of the Inquiry, citing that the root causes of poverty, addiction, and racism are well-known. However, our hope is that in formally exploring these factors, the Inquiry will force these uncomfortable truths out into the open and provide the information necessary to carve a tangible way forward that results in actual material action. Furthermore, Canada needs to face the reality that sex trafficking exists in this country and acknowledge the connection between the prostitution industry and what is happening to Aboriginal women.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada said in a press release:

“Girls have described that they were sex trafficked from group homes and motels that are part of the child welfare system. We have a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in the criminal justice system. These issues are all interrelated and our expectation is that one reason we are having the Inquiry to address how these issues relate to violence against Indigenous women and girls.”

The Federal government has named a 5-member commission led by Marion Buller Bennett. Marion Bennett is B.C.’s first female First Nations judge.  She brought to light that the mainstream court system has not worked for Aboriginals in the past and articulated the specific gaps in our knowledge that an inquiry serves to address:

“The families who feel the death of their loved ones were called a suicide or an accident or an overdose as opposed to a murder, those patterns are the kinds of things the commissioners will have to look into.”

Michele Audette is a leading women’s First Nations advocate and former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.  When asked why an Inquiry was necessary, she pointed out that the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been increasing, and that the relationship between Aboriginal women and the police needs to be addressed.  When asked what’s behind the disproportionate numbers of missing women, she said:

“Racism, discrimination.  We are a target.  Because we are Aboriginal women, we are a target.”

Qajaq Robinson is a Nunavut-born Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in Aboriginal issues and land and treaty claims. She represented Ian Campeau in filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about the Redskins Football Club name in Ottawa. When asked how she felt about the harassment she and her client received, she responded:

“It was worth it, hearing accounts from residential school survivors who had that term used on them and their accounts of feeling so weak and vulnerable and unable to fight against that.”

Marilyn Pointras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan.  She has expressed her disappointment with the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in legal decisions in Canada:

“The country is losing out on the opportunity to gain from Indigenous perspectives on everything from sentencing to the factors that lead to crime. When you start to incorporate Indigenous thinking into the justice model, you start talking a lot more about preventative measures and that’s where we should be taking things.”

Brian Eyolfson is a First Nations and human rights lawyer and former vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.  Mr. Eyolfson has worked for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and represented that group at the Ipperwash inquiry, which sought justice for the murder of Aboriginal activist Dudley George.

We are pleased to see Aboriginal women are well-represented on the Commission, and that federal resources are being attended to this very pressing issue, which Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has called a “national tragedy, but an international shame.”

For more information about the Inquiry, please visit https://nwac.ca/mmiwg.  For more information about prostitution from a local abolitionist perspective, please visit http://www.sextrade101.com, the Toronto Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization.

The Globe and Mail Investigates Human Trafficking in Canada

We would like to highlight this investigation into human trafficking in Canada by the Globe and Mail.

“The Trafficked project sprang from an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In the course of that reporting, the issue of human trafficking surfaced as a factor that puts some aboriginal women at even greater risk of disappearing or being killed.”

Please read the entire article here as well as the report The Trafficked with interviews from three Indigenous women survivors. It is important to note that Indigenous women account for just one in every 25 Canadians, but one 2014 study estimated they are about one in every two victims of human trafficking.

The pro-prostitution lobby would have us believe that women choose prostitution with their “free choice” and “agency” but the truth is that many of these women are coming from a population that is kept in vulnerable positions due to racism, misogyny, poverty and ongoing colonization.

Survivor and activist Bridget Perrier says “I didn’t choose prostitution. Prostitution chose me.” In a video provided by the Globe and Mail, Perrier talks about how men were purchasing her when she was only twelve years old, and they knew her vulnerability and that she was sexually abused. Aboriginal women are more likely to be in a vulnerable position due to the ongoing effects of residential schools and due to the combination of racism and misogyny that means our society sees them as disposable.

Women and girls do not choose or enjoy being sexually exploited. The men who purchase and sell women and children for “sex” need to be held accountable for this horrific crime.

We would like to congratulate the survivors and activists who are fighting back against the world’s oldest oppression on behalf of all women.

Taking The Revolutionary Road: Ending Violence Against Women

EVAW poster

We would like to thank the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario, the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry for putting on a fantastic panel discussion on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at the University of Toronto. Speakers from these three organizations spoke about the roots of oppression faced by women of colour in Canada, with particular attention to the temporary foreign worker program and its effect on Filipino women, the effects of residential schools and the Indian Act on Indigenous women, and the system of prostitution which disproportionately affects Asian and Indigenous women.

Canada’s temporary foreign worker program has brought large numbers of Filipino women into Canada to become caregivers in private households. Panelists explained that 84% of these women have a university education and 67% of them have children. Although these women are mostly educated professionals, they are performing low-skill work for low wages and are facing many barriers in upgrading their education or finding work in their fields. While performing caregiving work, women are often overworked, underpaid, subject to sexual violence and economic exploitation, and separated from their children, all of which have negative effects on their mental health. They are separated from their children for about 8–10 years, on average. Most of them continue with caregiving work or other “survival” work after the temporary foreign worker program has been completed, due to years of working outside their field and being unable to upgrade their education.

The Residential School system in Canada, which continued until 1996, separated Aboriginal children from their families and attempted to assimilate them into the white colonizer’s culture. In these Residential schools, white teachers taught patriarchal values to the children and instilled in them the belief that Aboriginal women and girls have no value. The Indian Act also reflected the beliefs of white male settlers and took status away from Indigenous women. The government of Canada is still failing to properly investigate the murders of Indigenous women, who are often dismissed as living a “high-risk” lifestyle. It is a high risk to be an Aboriginal woman in Canada, but this is not because of their own choices—it’s because of the systemic racism and sexism in Canada that continues to go largely unchallenged. Indigenous women are over-represented in prostitution in Canada, even though this is not a part of Aboriginal cultures. There is no word in any local Indigenous language for prostitution—this is a system introduced to this land by colonizers. It is in fact racist to claim that prostitution is the “oldest profession” in Canada, because this oppression did not exist here until colonization.

Revolutionary changes are needed to end the oppression of women in Canada. Women’s place in society needs to be changed—women need to be treated as equals in society rather than subordinate to men. New immigrants in Canada need to be treated as skilled workers, not as babysitters, and should not face barriers to obtaining meaningful employment in their fields. The temporary foreign workers program should be abolished and immigration laws changed to reflect the fact that immigrant women are skilled workers like everyone else. Many Filipina nannies are working for upper-class women so they can further their career goals. Even privileged women find that they are responsible for all the childcare due to attitudes about women’s place in society and their husbands not doing child care. A state-funded childcare program would ease the burden on all women and would eliminate the problem of upper-class women depending on the low-paid work of less privileged women in order to secure their place in the workforce.

Indigenous women deserve full safety and equality, and prostitution is incompatible with this goal. The organization Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry supports the new prostitution law in Canada, which regrettably has not been enforced much so far, because it holds men accountable for their violence. Much more needs to be done by police officers to hold male abusers accountable for the rapes and murders they inflict on marginalized women. Unfortunately, police officers are often the johns and the abusers of Indigenous women, and they represent the colonizers. There is understandable skepticism that the white colonizers’ justice system will ever be any help; however, we need to keep working to hold men accountable in every way that we can. The cultural construct of masculinity needs to be redefined—men should not learn that ownership and control over women is their right, and that violence is a part of being a man. All Canadians need to understand that Indigenous women are valued and deserve safety and respect.

Members of Radical Feminists Unite attended this event and were very moved and energized by the excellent speakers who talked about getting to the root of women’s oppression and centering the needs of women of colour in our organizing. Women are not free until the most marginalized among us are free.