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COVID-19: Reimagining an Online World

Published on 10/09/2020 by Rebecca Pacheco

Our Research Coordinator, Rebecca Pacheco, reflects on the role of technology and digital literacy for YWCA Member Associations and women across the country in living through a global pandemic.

The world is talking about, responding to, and trying to eliminate the same pandemic. Globally, we are sharing stories of hope and resilience, while simultaneously calling for support and collective care. Research for a vaccine is being conducted and shared across borders. Best practices in fighting this virus are being shared by health care experts with their global colleagues. International leaders and local governments are making significant decisions and debating issues over video chat. People are seeking reprieve with online game nights and virtual happy hours. Our careers, academically and professionally, are being reimagined online. One very fundamental thing allows for all of this to happen: technology.

Amidst this global pandemic, our lives have shifted to functioning predominantly on online spaces. Our reliance on the online world has emphasized the importance of access to technology and reliable internet in meaningfully contributing and connecting to the systems and people around us.

As part of our Born to be Bold research on women’s economic empowerment, we conducted a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on programs and services for women. The study confirmed that women across the country are feeling the effects of COVID-19, particularly in relation to their increasing reliance on technology and the internet. 79% of respondents noted a lack of access to equipment and materials, and a lack of digital literacy, as top barriers for women in accessing programming, including employment programs.

New Possibilities

Technology is introducing new possibilities for connection that would otherwise not be possible. It has the potential to reinvent the model of service delivery, as 57% of responding Member Associations indicated an increased level of flexibility and innovation in their program design and delivery in moving to an online model.

If the necessary measures are put into place – funding, equipment, digital literacy training, and IT support – technology has the potential to innovate and change the way we deliver services, expanding our reach and facilitating even larger and stronger connections.

In recognizing the beneficial potential of the internet and technology, it is equally important to recognize and be aware that they are also used as tools to oppress, control and abuse women and gender-diverse people across the country.

Member Associations – What do they need to adapt?

Our Member Associations identified what they would need to properly adapt to a shift to online program delivery. Fundamentally, it starts with access to technology, which includes both the equipment and access to stable and affordable internet. Having internet is no longer a choice or a luxury, it is necessary to meaningfully participate in the labour market and stay connected to avoid social isolation. It has to be recognized and prioritized as a basic need.

Digital literacy is proving to be an increasingly important area of education. Being given access to equipment without the proper training on how to meaningfully and safely use it is inadequate and potentially harmful. More time and money needs to be spent on developing and promoting digital literacy-related programs and resources.

Government Intervention – What is their role?

The government needs to recognize and act on their role in supporting this move to an online world. One critical arena the government can play an active role in is making internet accessible and affordable to residents across Canada. As it currently stands, internet access is often provided at inaccessible prices.

Recognizing that stable and affordable internet access is a necessity in today’s world, they need to prioritize time and resources in this area, including the provision of grants to supplement Canada’s transition into a virtual working world.

Women’s access to and participation in the labour market are integral to rebounding the economy. This means that women need affordable and reliable access to the necessary tools and resources to participate in an online labour market.

Employers – What is their role?

Employers also have a role to play and need to implement the necessary policy changes and budgetary adjustments to ensure there are budget lines dedicated to supplementing costs that are incurred from working virtually. Employers have an obligation to ensure that staff have all the necessary equipment, IT support and digital literacy training.

Technology and our shift to the online world has the potential to reinvent service delivery models and the labour market. By taking the necessary steps, the online world is opening us up to an infinite number of exciting new possibilities.

To learn more about the Born to be Bold project and YWCA Canada’s economic empowerment work, visit our website or reach out to us at projects@ywcacanada.ca. This project is funded by the Government of Canada and Future Skills Centre.

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