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Preventing a Lockdown Generation – A look into YWLEC’s plenary panel

Published on 02/07/2021 by Hamzia Bawa-Zeba

Despite Gen-Z women making up 2.5% of the Canadian labour force, they have accounted for 17% of the total decline in employment during the pandemic. This, and other startling factors that disproportionately affect equity-seeking individuals is why conversations around what life will look like post-pandemic are so necessary and timely.

On June 10, 2021, YWCA Canada’s Young Women’s Leadership and Engagement Committee (YWLEC) hosted a plenary panel focused on young people and the pandemic at YWCA Canada’s recent Annual Members Meeting. Titled Preventing a Lockdown Generation – Investing in Canadian Youth for Post-Pandemic Recovery, the event served as a soft launch of a year-long campaign YWCA Canada will be embarking on ensuring post-pandemic recovery is ensuring generational equity at the forefront.

The panel consisted of incredible thought leaders in the YWCA movement, including: Deanne Howlett, Program Manager at YWCA St. John’s; Renata Huyghebaert, YWCA Canada Board Member; Riley Daku, Director of Operations at YWCA Saskatoon; Sharon Ishimwe, YWCA Halifax Board Member; and Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Analyst at YWCA Hamilton. The discussion was moderated by Anjum Sultana, National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada, with opening remarks from Peggy Chen, YWCA Canada Board Member.

The panel was part of a large-scale advocacy campaign organized by YWCA Canada in collaboration with YMCA Canada. This campaign is meant to highlight the challenges young people are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, from job layoffs to social isolation.

The discussions were based around five main topics: employment opportunities, affordable housing, mental health, belonging and inclusive leadership and governance spaces. Panelists urged those in leadership positions to dedicate resources and other supports to ensure Canadian youth are supported during the post-pandemic recovery.

Howlett began the discussion with a powerful statement on the importance of applying an intersectional feminist lens when discussing the challenges facing young Canadians: “there’s no way forward without prioritizing young women and gender diverse people.” She went on to discuss the adverse effects of COVID-19 on employment. A survey on youth in Newfoundland and Labrador revealed that 61% were unemployed, with 72% of them saying that it was due to the pandemic. In thinking of solutions, Howlett mentioned the necessity of mentorship for young people to get a foot in the door. She also mentioned that racism is a constant barrier to opportunities and urged member associations to continue doing anti-racism work internally.

Nikolskaya shared staggering statistics about the housing crisis. She charged attendees to fight against the commodification of housing and to “push back against the unethical practices around the housing market”. Statistics show that in December 2020, real estate and rental and leasing topped the chart as the leading industry that contributed to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at $2.64 billion.

It appears that affordable housing is a myth with house prices in Canada doubling from 2014 to 2020. In fact, roughly 1.34 million homes across Canada are empty or hold temporary occupants. More than 235,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Canada. When you do the math, that is roughly one person per four homes. While Baby Boomers were buying homes at 3-4 times their salary, modern-day renters – specifically, 44% of those 30 and younger – are spending over 30% of their income on rent alone. If this isn’t dealt with, the younger generation will suffer tremendously.

The precarious nature of employment and housing prospects is bound to take a toll on the wellbeing of young people, and as Daku mentioned, many lack the life experiences that will assist them in developing healthy coping mechanisms during difficult times. Young people are missing out on fully experiencing key milestones in their lives. In dealing with COVID, there is more depression, anxiety and substance abuse. In fact, a survey conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada revealed that 48% of Canadian youth found feelings of isolation and loneliness as major challenges during the pandemic.

Knowing this, Daku reminded attendees to be empathetic, as it’s common to lose perspective as people get older. According to the Association for Canadian Studies in partnership with Douglas Foundation and Leger, young adults 18 to 24 years old were the age group with the highest levels of moderate-severe and mild depression at 34%. The mental health impacts of the pandemic will far outlast the physical. Current elevated health needs will only increase post-COVID and we must remember that despite how young people may deal with these traumatic times, it’s valid. We must put the appropriate systems and procedures in place now, for the future.

Millennials are currently the largest and most diverse generation of Canadians, making up 27% of the population. The Indigenous youth population is currently the fastest-growing demographic. Not to mention, an increasing number of Canadian immigrants are of a younger demographic. Ishimwe, a first-generation immigrant and a Black woman, spoke about feelings of belonging. The business case for diversity is clear. When people of diverse backgrounds and experiences come together, there is better governance and decision-making.

However, Ishimwe warned against hiring diverse people for the sake of fulfilling a quota. By doing this, the wrong candidates may be hired and potentially underperform, reinforcing harmful stereotypes. As a result, the focus should be on inclusion and not diversity. In terms of organizational learning, recognizing our differences is key. As she stated, “we must go from assumptions to questions, from judgement to curiosity.”

On the topic of inclusion, Huyghebaert spoke on going beyond conversations about inclusion to challenging tradition and building transformable leadership. As she adequately expressed, creating a culture of inclusion takes dedication and effort. It should include all levels of governance. Her tip to attendees was to question those who are allocating resources and signing off on decisions, while also being aware of our unconscious bias.

The continuous thread throughout the conversation was that the experiences of Black, Indigenous, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ youths were more difficult due to their intersecting identities. This is all the more reason to partner with and ensure that the communities experiencing diverse forms of marginalization are leading the charge.

What can the YWCA movement do to prevent a lockdown generation?

Recommendations included maintaining flexibility to prevent early-career burnout, disrupting the traditional 9-5 and entry-level culture, investing in educational resources for youth to build their capacity beyond what is taught in schools, providing mentorship opportunities, and making actionable commitments to change.

Investments need to be made now to ensure that we don’t have a generation locked away from an economically, psychologically, and socially sound future.

Our future depends on it.

Missed the event? The full session can be viewed here and be sure to follow the conversation online via the #PreventingALockdownGeneration hashtag: https://youtu.be/VjLIijIhu6I

Hamzia Bawa-Zeba is a Communications Assistant with YWCA Canada. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Law from Carleton University and a post-graduate diploma in Corporate Communications Public Relations from Centennial College. She can be found on Twitter @Hamzia_BZ

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