There are just days to go in a year like none of us has ever experienced.
Our approaches to communicating with each other have changed. Corporate messages bear standard and required introductions acknowledging ‘safety and wellness’ in ‘these unprecedented times.’ Our public health experience has moved from a personal chat with our family doctor to data-oriented bulletins that show at what point on the ‘curve’ we are, or the number of ‘outbreaks’ in our corner of this country. Our get-togethers and meetings (which I know some of us did not welcome with zeal) have become the sharp and flat pixels of…Zoom.
At my very first in-person meeting with the CARE Canada staff in early March 2020, I shared my passion for meeting and collaborating in-person, my excitement to see and experience our work firsthand and the energy I could feel we shared in dedicating our daily professional lives in support of women and girls around the world.
But by the time my official start date of April 1 arrived, everything changed.
Like you, I spent those first weeks grappling with what it all meant – how our humanitarian and development work would need to change and how the lives of our staff in Canada and in communities around the world would change too. Things suddenly looked different for each and every one of us on this fragile planet.
Children stayed home, instead of going to school or daycare. Relatives were alone or out of reach. Our health care systems became stretched and many services disappeared overnight. Some of our most basic needs, long taken for granted, were suddenly urgent. (Remember the rush for toilet paper, the empty store shelves?)
And then, the analysis, which was devastating, swift and concise: this pandemic was having a disproportionately negative impact on women. Women providing care, women working on the front lines of health and retail, women who lost the ability to earn an income and provide a dignified livelihood for their families.
This injustice is the reality for the millions we’ve supported over the last 75 years here at CARE. And no one knows this better than our local staff in 100 countries around the world. CARE employees live in the communities where we run our programs and so are best placed to listen, understand and, through amplification of local leadership, create change that lasts. These incredible members of our CARE community understand deeply what it means to experience drought, face conflict and lack of safety and want more for one’s children than the status quo has on offer.
Yet for many of us born in Canada after World War II, this pandemic represents the first time we have experienced disruption and inconvenience in our daily lives, let alone urgent threats to our health and safety. Popular debates (Do I really need to wear a mask? Should I send my child to her hockey practice?) speak to the privilege enjoyed by so many (though definitely not all) Canadians during this global crisis.
Some Canadians who have the luxury of reflection are sharing understandings of what is urgent and what’s important – and it has changed, drastically: Grandparents and Elders. Children. Friends. Safety. Health. Including mental health.
As the pandemic brought pause and disruption, other long-standing crises of social justice have called for our collective attention and action.
The death of George Floyd brought us a powerful and important reminder that not only is equality at risk in the countries where we work around the world. It is also at risk right here, in our own communities. Alongside our previous collective conversations that invoked #MeToo, acknowledging the continued pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence against women, many of us are asking ourselves ‘how did we allow this to happen?’ and ‘how can we possibly make this fractured world better’?
I have been thinking about that a lot, as so many of us have turned inward to understand these times, to learn how we can support our families and loved ones, to cope – another incredible thing has happened. We’ve experienced and benefited from true leadership: leadership that clarifies the great ambiguities we face, that includes a diversity of perspectives and opinions, and that moves forward by prioritizing human life over economic profit.
Countless citations over the past months show us that women account for a great number of the leaders who have helped Canadians and communities around the globe survive the year 2020. Our inspiration comes from many places: Canada’s Chief Medical Health Officer, a home caregiver in a small town, Prime Minister of a country that has flattened the curve, a midwife in a rural Zambian community. Women have been and are leading…for the betterment of all of us.
As I settle into these last days of the year, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned: we will only be safe when all of us are safe. I’m thinking about what has inspired me: people reaching out across the world to help and to heal. And finally, I’m looking ahead to what gives me hope: a New Year with kids in school, our elders in good health, women’s voices being heard, more hugs, and more opportunities for all of us who care, to do just that.
President and CEO