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Gender equity budget tool is a win for women’s rights in Toronto

Last weekend, the world watched in awe as women around the globe marched in support of gender equality.

But, change begins on a local level, and requires leaders, real decision-makers and politicians, to step up. Cue: Ward 23 Councillor Wong-Tam. She recently led a motion that was passed at Toronto city council to embrace gender equity perspective tools in their budget process. Wong-Tam also contributed to educating women at a gender equity town hall last week, and spoke at the Women’s March in Toronto on Saturday, attended by over 50,000 women.

“The march was much larger than anyone anticipated and it was very peaceful,” Wong-Tam says. “I thought the focus was going to be on the U.S., but clearly Canadian women wanted to be heard and seen here as well.” Wong-Tam spoke up on Saturday about how $91 million worth of budget cuts have impacted women specifically in Toronto, ranging from shelters to childcare subsidies.

With 18,000 women and children currently sitting on the housing waitlist, Wong-Tam points out that women are disproportionately affected by the annual budget process when it comes to transit, housing, and daycare subsidies. “We already have women’s shelters at capacity, not just in Toronto but across the country,” Wong-Tam says. “Women and children that are trying to flee violent households are turned away. Where are they going to go?”

Luckily, a gender equity perspective as a part of the annual budget-making process would help ensure that women received more support and protection. “The proposition to create a gender responsive budget is not to create a separate budget for women, but to create a budget that has equal benefit to men and women,” Wong-Tam says. “We achieve that by creating a set of questions that policymakers would use.”

Creating a gender responsive budget is a concept that is already being used by over 150 cities around the world. According to Wong-Tam, creating a gender equity tool in Toronto would begin by developing a complex series of questions for policymakers. “We need to start off by compiling aggregated data to understand who uses what services and budget allocations,” Wong-Tam says. “We would then ask service users if their needs are being met. If most are women using that particular service, we then recognize that.”

Creating a gender equity tool for the budget process is a dynamic solution to include people with various intersecting identities. “Women also come from a range of groups and vulnerable populations facing equity issues of their own, including racialized women, women with disabilities, women who are seniors,” Wong-Tam says. “The intersectional lens allows us to look at the full picture. We want to create a single budget that encompasses everyone.”

Toronto city staff is not prepared to enact gender equity tools within the 2017 budget, but Wong-Tam has hope for the following year. The councillor has created a task force full of service providers and female economists to help financial city staff create a gender equity tool for 2018 — and she vows to make it happen.

“I’m encouraged because there are so many young women who were energized around this issue. What I want to say to them is that we need to find a path from protest to power. The march on Washington has been ongoing asking and demanding for certain rights. The energy that I personally witnessed can fizzle out if we don’t keep organizing. We can be active around protests, but the only way to change the system is to hold the government accountable and keep organizing.”

Wong-Tam believes the way to finding equality for women is to act, and Women’s Post agrees. Vote for women, vote for gender equity, and fight for women’s rights using the power of the law and political will. If anything, the women’s march on Saturday showed that the world is on the precipice of change, so engage! Follow Councillor Wong-Tam’s lead and make Toronto a better place for future women and girls.