As We Begin 16 Days of Activism, We Still Need a Feminist Response to COVID-19 in Manitoba

By Micaela Crighton

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence begins on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and runs until Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. The campaign runs during this time to symbolically link and frame the ending of gender-based violence as a human rights issue. This past year has demonstrated the vital importance of recognizing and amplifying the call that women’s rights, girls rights, and 2SLGBTIA+ rights are human rights. 

The 16 Days theme this year, as determined by the UNiTE campaign, is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” It focuses on the impacts and intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic and gender-based violence, which has been termed a  “shadow pandemic” in the wake of COVID.

In 2020, we are not living through just one pandemic, but multiple pandemics. There has been the ongoing pandemic of racism, that devalues the lives of Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latinx people . The ongoing pandemic of poverty, creating a higher risk for those who cannot afford to shelter in place of contracting COVID-19. And the ongoing pandemic of gender-based violence, which has intensified under the pressures and lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. These are among the reasons why the 16 Days of Activism are so important this year. We must respond to these crises with actions and policies that value people over profits, that seek to eliminate harm, and that work to create a more equal society. We cannot afford to lose the opportunity to work for change and recover as a stronger, more equitable society. Within Manitoba and Canada, this work is essential to save us from falling deeper into the inequalities that have become impossible to ignore.

For many reasons, 2020 is a landmark year for gender equality on the international stage. It’s been 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 15 years since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, five years since the Sustainable Development Goals were set and five years since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2250. 2020 was supposed to be celebrated and was to add new drive behind the fight for a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world. March 9 to 20 would have seen people dedicated to the fight for gender equality convene in New York for two weeks for the 64th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women with a focus on the 25th Anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (CSW64 and Beijing +25). Later in May and July 2020, the Generation Equality Forum, an intergenerational movement for gender equality, would have occurred in Mexico and Paris.

On March 2, the Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba (IIWR-MB) delegation of 25 people, along with countless other advocates around the globe, received word that CSW64 was, for all intents and purposes, cancelled. Flights, hotel rooms and in-person celebrations were called off and advocates from around the world began to shift focus to ensure this momentous occasion was not lost within the pandemic, while simultaneously advocating for their communities. The resourcefulness of advocates and organizers shone through, as many found ways to continue this momentum in both the digital and physical world. At the same time, feminist and equality organizers knew that, as with any emergency, there would be a need for a feminist lens to be applied to this evolving global crisis. Work immediately began, examining the impacts of the pandemic on women, girls and gender-diverse folxs. Advocacy campaigns and actions sought to respond with a gendered lens, adding to the ever-changing political and societal landscape. 

On March 28, the IIWR-MB’s newly elected board met for the first time from our living rooms, home offices, and shared spaces on a video call. It was during this meeting that the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic within our local context was first raised by board member Renata Meconse. She called for the Advocacy Committee to respond to how this crisis was impacting women, girls and 2SLGBTQ++ folks. With that call, the committee began addressing the gaps of response in our communities. Quite quickly, the gaps became evident. We needed, and still need a feminist response to COVID-19 in Manitoba

In early May, we released our feminist response letter, written in collaboration with the Advocacy Committee, the board, and with sign-ons from the public. The letter called for the provincial government to respond to the crisis with an intersectional feminist lens and to specifically respond to six calls to action. These calls came about after examining national and international calls from feminist organizations, along with consultation and development with our board and Advocacy Committee. The letter received widespread support, with 18 organizational signatures and over 100 individual signatures, and was sent to Manitoba Status of Women Minister Cathy Cox and Premier Brian Pallister.

As we enter into the 16 Days of Activism today, it is an understatement to say that Manitoba is in a very different place than it was on May 25. The need for an intersectional feminist response to the COVID-19 crisis is more evident than ever before. It is no longer enough for the province to immediately apply the six calls to action to their response. The response needs an overhaul that centers people over profits. We still need a Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) on all pandemic responses and initiatives. Funding cuts to public services, Crown corporations and not-for-profits have had detrimental effects on service providers and need to cease. Parents, and specifically mothers, are constantly worried about access to child care and their ability to remain in the workforce. All Manitobans still need an income that is livable and paid sick leave. Above all, Manitobans need better governmental support to ensure they can pay their bills, have food on the table, be able to find support and shelter, and take care of themselves and their community to the best of their ability. 

The Premier stated that: “We know that the best social program isn’t a social program — it’s a job.” I could not disagree more. Jobs alone cannot solve the intersecting epidemics we are living through, nor address the inequality that has been put into sharp perspective by the pandemic. In a crisis, we are defined by how we support and care for one another. Asking people to risk their lives in order to pay their bills while also telling them to stay home is one of the reasons we are where we are in Manitoba, with COVID-19 case volumes at an all-time high. Supporting the people of this province, addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality, and tackling systemic issues of racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, bi/queerphobia, and homophobia will ensure a better pandemic response one based on the needs of communities. 

Over the next 16 Days, we will be sharing stories, educational tools, and actions. We will be hosting events that work to challenge systems of patriarchy and white supremacy and address the issue of gender-based violence. We will be relaunching our Feminist Response to COVID campaign in Manitoba and hosting a community dialogue on December 7 to hear what a feminist response to COVID-19 looks like for you. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and check out our events calendar to support the work of other organizations. This has been a rough year for so many of us, but it’s also been a year of movement and momentum. Let us keep that energy of community and change moving forward into 2021.   


Micaela Crighton is co-chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba (IIWR-MB). She also serves as a Research Advisor focused on the 2SLGBTQ++ community for the Canadian Council of Young Feminists – Senator Marilou McPhedran’s Youth Advisory Council – and as a Co-Founder and Steering Committee member for the Canadian Coalition for Youth, Peace and Security. For more information on the Advocacy Committee and to get involved, contact us via e-mail or on our website.