Thank you. I figured out what the problem was, so we should be good now.
I'm Sara Wolfe and I'm the director of indigenous innovative initiatives at Grand Challenges Canada. I do really want to thank you for inviting us to speak today on the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. As I said, this is my first time addressing a standing committee, so I hope to get invited back again one day in person.
I want to acknowledge the long history and enduring presence of indigenous peoples, including first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across Turtle Island. As an anishinaabekwe with strong connections to Brunswick House First Nation in northern Ontario, I also want to acknowledge the territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin people of Shabot Obaadjiwan where I'm currently a visitor. We're experiencing a very warm raspberry moon right now. The raspberry moon in the Anishinabe teaching is the moon when great change begins, so I am particularly looking forward to any questions you might have regarding my statement.
For the last 10 years, Grand Challenges Canada has been dedicated to supporting bold ideas with big impacts. We're funded by the Government of Canada and other partners, and we support innovators who are closest to some of the most pressing challenges in the world. The bold ideas that Grand Challenges Canada invests in integrate science and technology as well as social and business ideas and also, now, indigenous knowledge, to save and improve lives of people in Canada and in low- and middle-income countries.
Our organization has supported over 1,300 innovations in 106 countries and we estimate that these innovations have the potential to save up to 1.8 million lives and improve up to 64 million lives by 2030.
We've been listening to our innovators, our partners and our community members for the past four months to hear how COVID-19 has impacted their lives. Around the world, the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, particularly for poor and racialized people, and exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems, which are in turn intensifying the impacts of the pandemic with disheartening evidence of even deeper impacts for those at the intersection of multiple vulnerabilities, such as women living in poverty, and this is also emerging.
An intersectional understanding then is what we need if we're to recover from COVID-19 in a good way in Canada and around the world. The United Nations policy brief on April 9 titled, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women”, across every sphere from health to the economy and from security to social protection, noted that the impacts of COVID-19 are worsened for women and girls simply because of their gender. Increases in unpaid work we have already heard about. There has been a reallocation of resources and even blunt attacks on sexual and reproductive health services, and increases in gender-based violence. The poorer you were when you started out, the worse the outcomes have likely been.
At home in Canada we have a tendency to think that things are worse in the outside world, but the situation here for many is not actually much different.
So today, as I appear before the committee to discuss the gendered impacts of the pandemic on indigenous peoples in Canada, I also want to talk about what the indigenous innovation initiative is doing about them and how there's so much more that we could be doing.
My sisters have historically experienced higher burdens of poverty, discrimination, criminalization and violence, and there is a plethora of reports on the gendered impacts of being an indigenous women, girl or gender-diverse person in Canada, including the pivotal findings from from the final report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, “Reclaiming Power and Place”. The final report confirmed that domestic violence, human trafficking and health-related concerns were already among other significant issues for them, even before COVID-19, and I sincerely hope that everyone on the committee is already very familiar with the report and its corresponding calls for justice.
The indigenous communities are awaiting the government's action plan on that, but there are also new reports that have recently surfaced about the gendered impacts of COVID-19 for indigenous peoples. Last month, the Native Women's Association of Canada published an online survey of 750 indigenous women and gender-diverse people, and they noted a deeply concerning spike in the number of indigenous women facing violence during this time of sheltering in place. Almost one in five have reported a violent incident in the past three months.
In fact, of the indigenous women surveyed, more were concerned about violence than about the virus itself. Another key finding was that the financial impacts of COVID-19 are strongly correlated to violence against indigenous women.
Also, in June, Pam Palmater, the chair in indigenous governance at Ryerson University, wrote an article entitled “Gendered Pandemic Response Needed to Address Specific Needs of Indigenous Women”. In it, she wrote:
Canada’s failure to use a gender lens on its pandemic measures ignores the many ways in which the covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting women in general.
Now consider the dual disadvantage of Indigenous women who are also forced to navigate an “infrastructure of violence”...
The article goes on to give evidence of the several ways in which indigenous women and gender-diverse people have been disproportionately impacted and where there's an urgent need for dedicated pandemic planning for this demographic.
In a previous life, I worked as a midwife with urban indigenous families. That was for about two decades. My friends and former health care colleagues are reporting that at the street level, the impacts of opioid overdoses, untreated sexually transmitted infections, assaults, trafficking, street work, homelessness, mental health issues and unplanned pregnancies are all increasing, particularly for indigenous people.
To maintain the status quo means that the gaps will continue to widen and that indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people will continue to fall deeper, but it doesn't have to be this way. The root causes of the gendered and racialized pandemic inequities that we are seeing are ingrained much deeper than extra masks and hand sanitizer. We need attention to be focused on creating sustainable, long-term solutions. This is an opportunity for Canada to commit to a gendered response, one that includes a specifically tailored approach for indigenous women and gender-diverse people and their needs and which takes into account the context of racialized violence and poverty.
Small and medium-sized enterprises play a key role in the Canadian economy, as well all know. Women—indigenous and non-indigenous—are also the foundation of families and communities. Between 2013 and 2017, small and medium-sized enterprises made up 85% of the net job creation in the private sector, and in 2017, small and medium-sized enterprises employed almost 90% of the private sector workforce in Canada. However, only 1.4% were indigenous-owned, despite indigenous people being 5% of the national population, and of those, only 25% were majority indigenous women-owned. There's a lot of work to do.
For indigenous women and gender-diverse people, economic reconciliation is critical to their emergence. That will require sustainable investments in dedicated economic recovery efforts. Imagine what would happen if, as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan, we invested in indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals, so that they could position themselves to thrive when the Canadian and global economies re-emerge.
Seeded with $10 million in matching funds from the Government of Canada's Department for Women and Gender Equality, we've already started this work at Grand Challenges Canada. We were overwhelmed by the results of our recent call for proposals to accelerate gender equality through indigenous innovation and social entrepreneurship. We've received 238 applications across business, health, social, tech, environmental and cultural innovation. Unfortunately, we will only be able to fund the top 3% in this round, about five to seven projects.
Think about the impact for indigenous women and girls once the best ones are operational. Think about what the potential impact for indigenous women and girls could be if we were able to fund even, say, the top 10%. What if we invested even more in indigenous innovation using a gender lens to give them and the next generation an even better chance to reach their fullest potential? After all, this is helping them to also take care of their families.
What if we started off by offsetting emergency relief funds and longer-term unemployment expenses for indigenous folks who have lost their jobs because of the falling economy? I happen to know a group of indigenous innovators who have some awesome ideas, lots of support from their communities and tons of grit.
It's crucial that any COVID-19 recovery plan, globally and within Canada, places women, girls and gender-diverse individuals, as well as their inclusion, representation, rights, social and economic outcomes, equality and protections, at the centre if it's to have the necessary impact. This recovery plan is also an opportunity to invest in equality from a gender and an anti-oppression lens, so let's give the world more of what Canada and all of us aspire to, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.