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COVID-19 special:
Our frontline womxn warriers


  • Jennisha Wilson

  • Nasreen Rajani

  • Zara Canteenwalla

  • Dawn Bowdish


Event Summary

Given the current COVID19 pandemic, Ask Women Anything’s May 2020 panel took place via Zoom.  Our guests included professionals who gave their opinions as health experts, particularly concerning COVID-19 & the associated country-wide quarantine we are currently living under. The panel consisted of social worker Zara Canteenwalla, immunologist Dawn Bowdish , Carleton Media and Communications PhD candidate Nasreen Rajani and Jennisha Wilson-Tungasuvingat Inuit’s manager of sex work, exiting the sex trade and exploitation projects. This event was a frank and thoughtful look at the experience of COVID19 and its impact on all of us.


To start, the moderator asked about some of the speakers’ positive experiences and expectations in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Bowdish highlighted the fact that previously non-essential workers have become essential under these circumstances. Wilson agreed, saying that this emergency situation shows what organizations like hers have always advocated for: namely, that making the world safer for women and children makes it safer for everyone else. Throughout the event, Wilson underscored the incredible resilience and resourcefulness the people she works with have shown and continue to show, especially because of their particular experiences of marginalization.


When asked to comment on some of the long-term gains that they hope the COVID-19 situation leaves us with, the panelists all agreed that even though the pandemic shows a shift to focusing on non-essential workers, many of this group’s concerns remain unaddressed by government and societal institutions. Rajani noted the ways in which social distancing rules are being enforced disproportionately against communities and people of colour. She highlighted how in disseminating certain kinds of information, we centre some people’s experiences of the pandemic over others. Bowdish agreed, noting that calls for people to stay home to avoid spreading disease does not acknowledge the women and children who suffer from and live with abuse at home.


The speakers were asked to discuss some of the positives that might come out of the situation: all hoped that the pandemic might cause the provincial and federal governments to revaluate and perhaps institute a universal basic income. Some wanted a more accessible workplace. When asked about women’s leadership capabilities during these times, Wilson noted that the marginalized women she works know that doing nothing is simply not an option. Bowdish wanted to see concrete, evidence-based studies before deciding whether or not women had better leadership skills when compared to men.


When the conversation turned towards working from home, Canteenwalla raised her concern about schools mandating online courses: she noted that instituting such measures hastily might take away from children’s and students’ abilities to develop healthy social skills, which are based on interacting with others. Several panelists commented on the isolation and depression that teens are feeling at this time. To conclude the discussion, Canteenwalla advised people to self-reflect and become introspective about our own individual self-care, coping and survival skills while we are self-isolating at home.      


The Ottawa community had several questions which did not get answered, as there were too many questions and not enough time to hear from these experts. Great big thanks to all of our panellists and our amazing volunteers for a thoughtful, reflective and hopeful Ask Women Anything event!

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