120 YWCA Leaders, 338 Politicians, One Clear Ask

It was a day for the YWCA history books. In November, 120 YWCA leaders from coast-to-coast-to-coast participated in the movement’s first-ever advocacy day on Parliament Hill. In meetings with Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senators, we called for a gender lens on the National Housing Strategy that includes a minimum of 25% of funds dedicated to projects and services for women, girls and their families.

Driven by the voices of the women and girls who use our services, we spoke truth to power – literally.

YWCA leaders shook things up on a turf where women’s voices and lived experiences are often not adequately heard or reflected in decision making. Women’s representation in Parliament stands at a dismal 27%, and we have yet to see full implementation of an intersectional gender-based analysis in policy development. This can render invisible many of the structural barriers faced by different groups of women, including when it comes to homelessness and accessing housing.

We also called for recognition of Indigenous treaty rights to housing and closer attention to the challenges facing gender non-binary populations in securing safe, affordable housing and support.

As the only national association providing housing and shelter for women and girls across Canada, the YWCA movement knows of what we speak. We know that women tend to hide their homelessness because the streets are not safe. This includes women and their children who couch surf with family or friends; women who remain in violent situations to maintain their housing; the thousands of women sleeping in shelters and waiting for a place to call home. The homelessness we witness on our city streets is a tragedy but it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crisis facing women.

YWCA leaders called on politicians of all stripes to take a feminist approach to public policy – and we got results. Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Canada’s National Housing Strategy that includes the YWCA ask for 25% of funds to flow directly to projects and services for women and girls.

YWCA leaders called on politicians of all stripes to take a feminist approach to public policy – and we got results.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Canada’s National Housing Strategy that includes the YWCA ask for 25% of funds to flow directly to projects and services for women and girls. This is a hopeful first step that could mean a continuum of housing options for women – emergency shelters, permanent housing, supportive housing. It could mean additional funding for staff support to address the complexity of the trauma, mental health and addictions challenges that women may experience. It is also an important reminder that advocacy works. Change is possible when women come together, and raise their voices.

Reflecting on a successful advocacy day, YWCA Canada CEO Maya Roy put it best: “I am so proud to be part of movement of strong and fearless women – standing in their own power.”

Join us as we move forward: Talk to your friends and colleagues about how the housing crisis impacts women and children. Talk to people who care about building a more equitable and inclusive city for women and who can make change happen. YWCA Toronto can help you to do this. Canada needs a National Housing Strategy that counts women and girls in – nothing less.

Etana Cain is the Manager of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto.