Gender and the City, Essay Example
In her detailed article and analysis, If Low-Income Women of Colour Counted in Toronto, which serves as the final report of the ‘Breaking Isolation, Getting Involved’ project, author Punam Khosla uses the city of Toronto to make an effective and detailed plea for change. The project itself, funded by Canada’s Women’s Program of Status of Women, obviously has a specific agenda: it exists to document the dire economic and social placement of women of color, in this case specifically in Toronto. Nonetheless, that agenda of itself in no way indicates a desired bias, and Khosla’s report merely presents recommendations for change, as it point out enormous inequities, from a foundation of carefully examined evidence.
One of the most striking aspects of the report is that, in focusing upon the conditions women of color face in Toronto, it provides insights into similar circumstances elsewhere, both in Canada and most certainly in the United States. Women of color are generally in the lowest ranges of any economic survey, as this relates to employment and housing opportunities. A variety of factors keep such women from relieving their own burdens, and these are cyclical in nature. Lack of education translates to low wages, and better jobs with more pay cannot be had without further education. That commodity, however, is rendered virtually impossible to achieve because the women in question have no time or opportunity to seek education; low-paying jobs usually means an excess of work hours in order to survive. In examining the situations in Toronto, Khosla reveals harsh facts about the massive obstacles women of color face in social arenas and communities everywhere.
Key Concepts: One
Khosla begins her study with a look at the “Big Picture”, a section of the article that presents a virtual avalanche of shocking and/or discouraging information. Her intent is clear, and immediately substantiated by the facts. As she acknowledges the pronounced poverty rates of minorities in general, and draws attention to how recent socio-economic upheavals have reduced the living standards across the board, women of color are at the lowest end of the spectrum, always: “…Women’s poverty rates have seen little improvement over the years. But women of color…on their own are strikingly poor” (Khosla 19).
The overriding concept in this section is that of poor to non-existent options for Toronto’s women of color, based upon a cascading effect of various factors. The statistics Khosla presents completely validate her points, and the inescapable reality is that racism, combined to an extent with larger gender issues, has trapped these women in circumstances both dire and self-perpetuating. The women of color cannot afford to take the public transportation that could bring her to one of the few support centers available, nor can she earn enough to afford better housing, which in turn may be denied to her anyway by virtue of her race. There are no hopeful avenues revealed here; even police assistance in emergencies is presented as, at best, ineffective. More commonly, women of color have great reason to mistrust the authorities in place to protect them.
What is missing in this section, unfortunately, is an addressing of the reasons. It is one thing to indicate racism and gender bias as the causes of the extreme poverty of women of color, and even to substantiate this assessment with extensive data. It is another to try to explain why, in a modern metropolis like Toronto, there appears to be something of a regression in terms of societal equality. Racism and bias against women have been significantly, if gradually, acknowledged and dealt with in virtually every civilized Western nation. That Canada’s major city of Toronto appears to be heading backwards in these regards is certainly a surprising fact, and worthy of consideration.
Khosla indicates strongly that Canada’s own and predominant viewpoint is that the nation does far better in terms of eradicating housing segregation than does the United States, but she by no means permits this view to be seen as valid. Again and again, she provides startling evidence of a chain of barriers binding women of color, as she also stresses how racially fueled these barriers are. Unfortunately, there is no recourse for her in delineating the sources of this powerfully influential racism. The facts are presented and irrefutably point to the greatest issues faced by the poorest minority populations, but, again, this alarming “settling in” of the city into an increasingly racist society is not explored, even hypothetically. In a vast, modern city, within a nation which prides itself upon a liberality of civic outlook, this is a major issue which is conspicuously absent in the report.
Concepts: Section Two
This extraordinary section is titled, ‘What Women Told Us’, and it presents an unvarying account of abuse, discrimination, and extreme poverty. Women of color were organized into meetings where they were encouraged to speak out on issues affecting them, and it is difficult to imagine a single element of living in which they did not have cause to complain. From rude and outright hostile transit employees to sexual assault from landlords and medical personnel, the picture painted is of utter hopelessness, with the added consequence of its inherently self-perpetuating nature.
The impact of this section is, quite simply, overpowering. Aspect after aspect of daily life is presented as hopeless, and this actually has the effect of harming Khosla’s purpose in relating it all. There is absolutely nothing but victim hood indicated here; every story, every statistic, and every quote from a woman of color describing an intolerable incident combines to exhibit a situation that is more suited to conditions in a city torn by war, and of impoverished, Third-World stature to begin with. The evidence is real and there is no denying its validity; yet it is self-defeating in its sheer enormity.
The reader is forced to consider: how can no options at all exist for these women? There are repeated and urgent cries from women at these meetings for a direct and active role needed from the civic government, to respond to these outrageous conditions. However, this in itself is a discouraging factor. It is disturbing that these women, abused even by the few organizations in place set up to provide aid, would seek to find relief from this quarter.
Then, only minimally addressed is the pivotal issue of communication as a barrier to advancement. Obviously, Toronto women who cannot speak English are greatly likely to be denied decent jobs, yet the women themselves do not seem compelled to learn a skill vital for advancement in any nation at all, that of knowing the language: “Community workers agreed strongly that conversational English opportunities are desperately needed…but they also pointed out that too many women miss out on taking even the initial classes funded by the Federal Government” (72). These women in these meetings uniformly declare an urgent desire to better their lives, and be more enabled to protect themselves and secure opportunities. This fundamental asset, however, one of the few government-funded operations still in place and designed to assist minorities, has gone largely unused.
This relates to the over-all sense of frustration this section imparts. It is unacceptable that a population base this large, no matter the deprivations and obstacles it faces, would not be compelled to take action on its own, and avail itself of every possible opportunity to make life better. Moreover, it is sincerely hoped by the section’s end that the women concerned will express a determination to empower themselves.
Section 3: Concept of Change
Eight proposed initiatives were culled from these meetings by a committee of the Women’s Network which had orchestrated them. In fairness to the process of learning what actually was concerning the Toronto women, definitive action plans were drawn up. According to Khosla, the most crucial of these initiatives is that which would establish a network of core-funded, cross-cultural “drop-in” houses for women, and in low income neighborhoods. They would provide a host of services, but exist primarily as referral centers, where women in trouble could be guided by an educated and concerned staff. They would be, in a very real sense, hubs to connect other services, reinforcing those services through the strong connections.
Most telling here is that, despite proposed funding from a variety of civic organizations, “The City, however, would need to be the driving force in ensuring the implementation of the initiative” (80). Here again, desperately required help is being sought from the source which has so glaringly abandoned these women. There is a sense, moreover, that the city is being turned to much in the manner that poverty-stricken women claim they are forced to turn to men: there is nowhere else to turn.
What this fails to take into account is the rampant racism and gender bias which has steadily crippled the lives of these women. It is unreasonable to suppose that genuine awareness and concern will come from a foundation that has, as evidenced by the innumerable stories these women told, utterly ignored them because they are poor women of color. Unless substantial funding could be had from organizations for social welfare outside of the municipal government, this effort has the appearance of being as self-defeating as the ignored calls to the police these women have endured. Given the nightmare scenarios of the lives of the Toronto women of color, it seems evident that only a grass-roots and political base can begin to draw the proper attention to the issues facing them.
Fortunately, as so much careful thought and planning went into devising solutions and measures, there are examples of women wanting to exert control over their destinies, and not leave them in the hands of an uninterested government. For example, the LiveSafe initiative , designed to ensure proper maintenance of low-income housing, is projected as requiring governmental regulatory controls, yet the women understand that they must play an active role in the commencement and operation of such an important safeguard.
So, too, would the proposed Public Health Review depend upon active participation from women who have suffered under its implementation to date. In both these instances, the meetings held and documented in the second section must be taken to the next level, and actual experience serve as testimony to enforce policies and laws severely neglected, as well as pave the way for new programs.
This notwithstanding, there is nonetheless the recurring note of, “The City must…” at the beginning of each initiative. The women of color of Toronto must accept that governments do not traditionally respond to distress unless they have no alternative. This is cynical, but true, and oppressed minorities in many nations have learned that only through the organized mobilizing of what they themselves are, in legal and non-violent force, are voices not merely heard, but responded to. It may be that the Toronto women of color have no economic power or standing at all. They have, however, their own numbers, and minorities throughout history have created change with nothing beyond numbers on their side. Khosla’s concepts, while exactingly presented and thoroughly validated, stop short of urging the sort of pro-active efforts even these despairing women can make. They cannot simply turn to the Canadian government; they must, as citizens, give the Canadian government no choice but to get to work on their issues.
Khosla, P. If Low-Income Women of Colour Counted in Toronto. Toronto, Canada.: Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, 2003. Print.
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