As we approach the municipal election on November 15th, potential voters may feel unsure about which party or candidate represents the best interests of their community. One way to begin sifting through the different approaches to hot button issues is through an intersectional lens. Addressing the specific needs and concerns of our city’s most marginalized is a crucial part in making Vancouver a city of opportunity for everyone.
Intersectionality foregrounds the diversity of individuals and their needs based on their belonging to multiple social categories such as gender, ethnicity, class, ability, sexual orientation and gender performance, Indigeneity, immigration status, and age. It is the study of the relationships, or intersections, between these many facets of people’s identities and structural forces of oppression such as sexism, racism, ableism, and colonialism. Such larger trends marginalize certain groups and prevent equal participation in the public life of a city.
Public policies are often developed with the goal of being ‘neutral’ with equal benefits for all citizens. In reality, people do not start life on equal footing, and barriers related to their circumstance, physical attributes, or identity obstruct equality of opportunity. Likewise, policies don’t affect all people equally – social context and outcomes matter. We need to measure what policies actually do in the long-term, instead of accepting that their intended purpose creates positive impacts for everyone. Using an intersectional lens challenges campaign promises from all sides of the political spectrum; it dispels common sense notions of how policies work by drawing attention to their effects on all cross-sections of our population. In the end, it comes down to whether the proposed actions create more equity or unintentionally increase marginalization and disparity.
The Women Transforming Cities’ Hot Pink Paper campaign is guided by intersectionality. The campaign outlines barriers to inclusion and existing gaps in Vancouver’s service provision for self-identified women and girls. Specific policies are presented to remedy these gaps. The 11 areas of focus were chosen over the course of more than 20 cafes that WTC has held across Vancouver in the past two and a half years. Community organizations and constituents came together at the cafes to decide which issues were most important to them and how exactly they would like to see the city change to become more equal and just for all.
Affordable housing in Vancouver is a top priority for Vancouver constituents and so far has been a prominent issue at the municipal debates. The recently released report The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014 clearly demonstrates how lack of government support over the last 25 years has increased homelessness across the country. BC has the highest rates of child poverty in the country and homelessness numbers reached a historical all-time high in Vancouver in the past year. But yet to be addressed in these conversations is how unaffordable housing has gendered, classist, racialized, ableist and colonial implications in some of Vancouver’s most marginalized communities.
The Hot Pink Paper housing panel asks that future municipal housing policy addresses women and girls’ disproportionate “income inequality, vulnerability to gendered violence and exploitation, family responsibilities and employment opportunities.” Implementing sustainable low-income housing options that focus on the specific needs of women and children is just one of the policy recommendations that could begin to remedy this issue. Housing policy that addresses the concerns of the city’s most vulnerable and marginalized would make Vancouver a better place for everyone to live and would decrease the cost of public services such as policing, health services, and temporary shelter provisioning.
The Hot Pink Paper campaign also calls on parties and candidates to commit to improving the city for women and girls by publicly endorsing its policy recommendations. All of the policy recommendations have been thoroughly vetted through the collaboration of women’s organizations, women-specific service providers, community organizations, and academic researchers. On November 10th, Women Transforming Cities will announce on their website the candidates and parties that have confirmed their support.
While the Hot Pink Paper campaign is not an exhaustive analysis of marginalization in our city, it is a jumping off point from which candidates, parties, and voters can consider the different ways in which policies and programs impact the members of their community. Creating inclusive policies and programs that promote the integration, wellbeing, and success of all individuals is a priority that everyone should champion.
The Hot Pink Paper campaign is accessible online at womentransformingcities.org