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Anu Dugal, Director of Community Initiatives & Policy at Canadian Women’s Foundation

Anu Dugal is a formidable advocate for women. She has previously been the Director of Violence Prevention Programs and, before that, a Board Member and Chair of the Violence Prevention Committee. Anuradha also sits on Minister Monsef’s Advisory Council on Gender-based Violence and is a member of the Conseil des Montrealaises.

Q&A with Anu Dugal

1. What is the state of gender equity in Canada, and how are non-profit organizations like the Canadian Women’s Foundation working towards achieving equity? What are the key barriers to accelerating the pace of change?

At the Canadian Women’s Foundation, we are working to promote and supercharge change in 4 critical areas: ending gender-based violence, ending women’s poverty, building girls’ empowerment, and building inclusive leadership.  

The pandemic has been hard – economically, in the first month of the pandemic, women accounted for 70% of those who lost jobs. Service industry and low-wage jobs where many women work were hit particularly hard. I in 3 women consider leaving paid workforce.

In addition, women face higher burden of unpaid childcare, home-schooling, eldercare. Women who provide paid care are working on front lines, underpaid and undervalued and increased caregiving burdens impact women’s mental health.

And unfortunately, there is an additional increased risk of abuse for those confined at home with abusers. More barriers to reaching out for help, and a worrying uptick in femicide over past two years.

We recognize that there have been historic gaps and underfunding for many communities that have entrenched different forms of marginalization, discrimination and this has led to individuals and communities who remain underserved. To turn this around, we prioritize programs that serve women with disabilities, Indigenous women, racialized women, newcomer women, and women living on low incomes. Our work at the community level informs our efforts to advocate for systemic change at the national level.

Leaders and institutions need to look internally to be able to name and then reverse systemic patriarchy, racism, colonialism and other forms of discrimination. Until we are able to do this concretely, diverse women will not be fairly represented or heard in Canada.

Many of the ways that women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people are invisible because not only the systems, but the way we work within the systems and the ways that we measure whether things are working.

2. Rosemary Brown, one of the eight pioneering women who founded Canadian Women’s Foundation, once said that “until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” How does that statement resonate with you, and how does it inform the mission at CWF?

For me, this is at the heart of what we mean when we say our work is intersectional. It is not possible to move ahead with advances for one group of women if another group is left behind. And honestly, this is one of the major critiques of earlier manifestations of feminism that I would have to say – we must do better! 

What this means to me is that I cannot stop advocating for childcare, even though I might have access to great childcare because I live in Quebec, and I cannot stop talking about anti-Black racism because I am not Black. This to me, also speaks to what I consider sisterhood. Sometimes it is called allyship, sometimes solidarity. For some people all those things mean something different, and I do not mean to gloss over those differences.

But at the heart of what Rosemary Brown is telling us is we are in this together – our oppressions may not look the same, but they are rooted in the same power, and we can only change those systemic inequities when we choose to share our power, using it for good, building a community that can advocate together. So think about the power you might have, and how you can share it – who do you bring to the table, who do you have a conversation with to highlight an otherwise invisible inequity, who are you advocating with, when do you give up your seat to another person, another group?

3. How does the lens of intersectionality play a role in achieving equality, equity, and justice? Should non-profits take a critical intersectional approach to their work? What resources do they need to move in this direction?

We have to challenge everyone to take up an intersectional understanding of oppression, as well as a feminist one. Yes, we must fight the patriarchal power that holds women back, but also have to see the racism, the transphobia, the ableism within the patriarchal power. 

I think there are several steps to being able to make changes to how we work to include intersectionality – first is always education. Every staff member, every volunteer, and every partner need to learn about intersectionality, feminism and how to achieve gender justice. You can’t use an intersectional lens if you are unable to name transphobia within your organization materials. 

Next comes action – 25% of women in Canada are living with disabilities – if your workplace does not make accommodations to ensure that it is inclusive with messages, materials, protocols, policies and so on, you will never be able to change your programs, which probably need to change!

And always we have to measure – that is a step we miss, sometimes out of the best intentions. There are ways to do this that do not entrench and reinforce discrimination and it might be different for each group, so this is part of the learning. 

And then you start again from the beginning – learning from what you have already done, reflecting and continuing to make change. 

4. What role do governments and corporations play in helping to advance equity in Canada?  

Obviously, funding is huge! I would say please fund great programs long-term, mission-based and for community work. 

Consider gender budgeting and other forms of intersectional analysis to show where money is being allocated and who it benefits. 

I would also ask people within government or corporations to consider their individual power – which admittedly may not be much, but to ask if they can use their influence to make change – we are seeing this more and more with employees asking their employers to do better and also employers looking at how their employees find value in their lives, outside work. It could be very powerful to see how these can be harnessed for positive change in the workplace – especially around things like paid sick leave, decent work, flexible conditions, dependable and long-term contracts – all kinds of ways that employers can show a commitment to social justice by making sure they are not creating conditions that are exploitative or extractive.