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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Impressions of IWD Toronto 2016

 IWD participants gather outside of OISE before the march.
IWD participants gather blurrily outside of OISE before the march.

The annual International Women’s Day march was held yesterday here in Toronto, drawing a turnout of around 3,000, according to CityNews.  Two of our members attended part of the rally and the march from OISE at the University of Toronto to the Student Campus Centre at Ryerson University.  Following are the impressions of one member speaking as a radical/socialist feminist, and not claiming to speak for every member of RFU.  These impressions come with the caveat that, due to the adventure of commuting by TTC on weekends, I missed most of the rally (up to the point of the final set of speakers) and did not visit every table at the fair.  

The Good:

  • The proletarian history of IWD was highly visible with various socialist/Marxist/communist groups present, and working class issues made central.  Many union and industry worker groups were behind banners, as well as 15 & Fairness, which aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 and create better conditions for low-income workers (we were near a Chinese contingent of this group that increased access to their message by carrying Chinese language signs).
  • The international intent of the day was not just lip service.  Groups representing workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Latin America, etc. were in the march.  (We were behind the Communist Party of Iraq, whose slogans included “No to Discriminating [Against] Women in Iraq,” “No to Iraqi Personal Code, which is inspired by Sharia,” and “Separation of Religion is the demand of Iraqi mass.”) Canadian First Nations women were at the forefront with Idle No More and demands for the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
  • After a great disappointment with Take Back the Night 2014 being used as a pulpit for the prostitution lobby, I had low expectations for acceptance of the sex commodification industry in large mainstream ‘feminist’ demonstrations like this one.  However, I did not personally see this happening at IWD.
  • IWD hasn’t been taken over by corporate interests like Pride unfortunately has (I say that as someone who marched in World Pride 2014).
  • There was some opportunity to carry forward with activism (more about my issues with this subject below).  The most concrete example of one organization giving women the means to do something tangible was the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.  They handed out stickers to put on TTC and street ads for crisis pregnancy centres in order to warn women that these organizations are anti-choice.
  • The march generated a lot of interest (and surprise) from people on the street.  I only heard one person yelling at us that we’re slaves and should go to hell or something.

The Not So Good:

  • As a proletarian event, I felt that the focus on women and the roots of our oppression was sometimes lost.  Women’s lived realities are of course inseparable from our class, race, immigration status, and so on, but women’s activism is uniquely expected to cater to every other issue, even if it means putting our oppression as women last on our list of concerns.
  • There was not as much female-erasing / trans-centric language as I feared, but there was a general lack of identifying the source of women’s oppression: patriarchy and men as a class.  What appeared to be the overarching theme of “No More Violence, No More Hate” does not name the perpetrator and holds no one accountable for misogyny.  The (hundreds) of men who attended got to pat themselves on the back for their participation without having to consider–much less change–their own misogynistic thoughts and behaviour.  In fact, there was so much focus on labour issues that it would be easy to march without having to think about women much at all.
  • Though I didn’t see pro-prostitution and porn messages at the march, I also didn’t see anything calling them out as violence against women.  (Please comment below if you saw messages about the ‘sex’ industry in either direction!)
  • Amnesty International was there.
  • This may be an inherent challenge for rallies and demonstrations like this, but I left with little sense of what we can do going forward other than “donate money” and the questionably effective “sign this petition.”  Consciousness-raising has long been a central component of radical feminism, so I respect that it’s necessary, but we can’t stop there.

Overall, it was encouraging to see everyone coming together in good spirits with some class consciousness and the desire to amplify the voices of marginalized women, but I left ambivalent about the effectiveness of the day.  To elaborate on my last point, as a radical/socialist feminist, I want to leave an event with the feeling that something has been accomplished, or the sense of a concrete plan going forward.  I didn’t leave feeling this way, but I hope that other women did.  I hope that they discovered new groups and women to build community with.  I hope that they find a way to engage with feminist activism that doesn’t set women back with empowerful pole dancing and Slutwalking.  I hope that the events of the day will inspire women to actually get involved with feminism, and not just stick on the label because the label is all the rage these days.

If you attended (or if you didn’t) and this post has clicked with you, please feel free to contact us via comment or email.  Let’s get together and plan the smashing of patriarchy!