August 12, 2021
Rubina Karyar: Tell us about the work you are doing now related to work, labour, and livelihoods.
Judith Mintz: I work as a Research Analyst in the Department of Quality Assurance, Decolonization Outcomes Measurement for Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST). Some of my work has to do with work, labour and livelihoods, but not all of it. There are two projects in 2021 that I did that are very specifically connected to work, labour, and livelihoods. The first is a project we are currently doing in partnership with the National Environments Indigenous Health Research (NEIHR). It involves 21 researchers across Turtle Island, and there are some researchers in Aotearoa and Australia. The principal investigator is Suzanne Stewart from the Waakebiness Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing, the Indigenous arm of public health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
I was leading a research project called “Documenting Our Pandemic Response.” I conducted interviews with 27 staff asking questions about how they experienced the agency’s response to services going online/virtual. Findings showed that many staff experienced increased stress due to lack of work and life balance, having kids at home, lack of privacy, and clients having 24/7 access. Social work staff were experiencing clients would text them 9 or 10 p.m. So, our frontline workers (social workers who serve clients/community) were especially taxed by having to provide services online and at all hours. Members of the community experienced stress due to programs going virtual; it all required innovation. The questions that I was thinking about were: How did the agency innovate? What were the gaps? What were the successes? Personally, my interest was, “How does this land on women?” What is the gender imbalance? How are women expected to be carers? How are women expected to do the second shift? All those pieces around the ways in which neoliberalism equates lack of funding, for example, in agencies where we are struggling to get enough devices for clients to use to do the remote work. Since much of the service staff at NCFST are female, there was also a gendered aspect to these findings, in that, for the most part, they still experience a second shift.
I was really interested in the ways in which foster parents were navigating because they are workers, but they are also performing a mother’s work. The staff who suffered the most were the people who on-boarded near the beginning of the pandemic or afterwards. Because they were working in isolation, they did not get to meet their co-workers in person until, like—maybe not even yet. I had started working for Native Child three weeks before the pandemic, and I managed to make a few in-person connections that were really important. There was one woman who offered mental health support for another community consultation project I worked on last year. This woman and I became great friends, but we did not meet in person until July. The pandemic has made this very common. So how did people manage isolation working at home during COVID? How did they make meaningful connections? And, you know, we depend on one another in the social work field. Some of the staff were doing things like they would make WhatsApp chats. They would have pizza nights and hang out online.
The Quality Assurance Department is the smallest in the agency. There were only four of us, and I personally have navigated a lot of isolation, but because I also do community consultation work and I have outreach and connections with elders and with some clinical staff. I figured out ways to manage, but it can be challenging.
Another project that I did that also related to labour and livelihoods was that I designed a qualitative survey on return to in-person work, asking staff about how they feel about returning to work, especially in lieu of COVID. Do you feel safe? Do you feel unsafe? It is interesting because these questions intersect with work and health safety pieces and equity pieces, and I am interested in both, although I do not work in HR. In this returning-to-work survey, qualitative questions aimed to understand the needs of the NCFST staff in returning to work in person. Findings included that many staff did not miss the commute at all, nor did they mind eating their lunches at home, but they did miss the support of working in the community. They found it harder to get enough exercise. They found that they did not have enough privacy, so they wanted to be back at work.
The agency has semi-annual cultural renewal retreat days, one in October and one in May, historically in-person on the land, but the pandemic forced us all inside, which meant it’s harder to feel connected culturally to one another as an agency. These events had to be virtual. It’s so hard to do that kind of work virtually. Some folks are disengaged. They just do not want to. The Indigenous to settler makeup at work is about 51% Indigenous. So, the non-Indigenous staff, some of them do not have a lot of background in Indigenous culture. And it is really hard to feel connected when we are separated from one another, but the virtual events helped with that isolation.
RK: How do you position this work in your broader program of research and your particular discipline?
JM: My PhD is in Gender, Feminist and Women's Studies (York, 2018). I am particularly interested in gender equality, looking at the ways in which women's labour is gendered as domestic and caring and the effects of neoliberalism. For instance, in my dissertation, I looked at, in part, the effect of precarious labour on yoga teachers in the wellness industry. In the social work field, you know, I am doing this work and thinking about how social workers are women, but I'm not doing research on that. While in my Master's, I was doing research on motherhood and mothering and the disciplining of mothers, Indigenous motherhood, Indigenous mothering and Indigenous family relations, and how colonization and residential schools have devastated Indigenous culture and intergenerational relationships. These are things I have been very interested in for a long time. In my PhD, I had to put some of that stuff aside, although I TAed a course called Motherhood and Mothering with Andrea O’Reilly, who has been a mentor of mine since my Master’s. It kind of makes a lot of sense that in my broader research around motherhood and mothering, if we take a Foucauldian approach to the topic, the dimensions of disciplinarity emerge. The dimensions of colonization have affected women and Indigenous women in particular. I have done some teaching in Women's Studies as well. And I have some background with domestic violence and partner assault response, so those are areas that we look at in the community, including human trafficking. We have an anti-trafficking program, and I am working on an anti-human trafficking program. Sex work is different from human trafficking. So, I am supporting some of those pieces as well.
RK: What are you curious about, and what do you hope to pursue in the future?
JM: I am passionate about allyship. How to be a good ally is pretty much everything I am doing and thinking about. Sometimes, I need a break from that, so I think more about body positivity. I used to be a yoga teacher. I think a lot about living and being well as a woman who is almost 50. I am thinking about how my yoga practice has changed over the last 15 or 20 years being a mother and an academic. Now, as someone working from 9-to-5 with kids around, what does my yoga practice look like? That still shows up in my life when I am doing other things. What I hope to pursue in the future is to become a professor. Why did I do a PhD? It is because I originally wanted to be in academia.
Somewhere around year four, I started thinking about other options out there. I started thinking about applied research or activist research. Much of my research is around allyship and mothering because those are just things that I am passionate about. If somebody offers me a gender studies teaching job today, I might take it. But I love working in the sector, working on the ground.
I love what I do. I am applying and enacting all of the theories that I did in my PhD and Master’s. We talk about activism. It is so theoretical. bell hooks and Audre Lorde both write about theory and practice and how theories alienate many people, especially women of colour, who are not in academia and may be excluded from academia. The same thing goes for Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities have historically difficult relationships with educational institutions.
We are trying to change that, but we are still not doing a great job. I am in this role, and I am not fixing everything. I don't think I can fix everything, but I am trying to help to amplify Indigenous voices and help lift them and create spaces for them to do the work. In this role, I am supervising an Indigenous student. I am helping her to develop her writing skills and to get more concise with her writing. Her work is going into the Early Years and Aboriginal Head Start Best Practices and Program Manual. I am supporting her to make these contributions. I am making my contributions. Sometimes I think, what work would I want to do? If I could give a lecture, it would probably be related to Indigenous-settler relationships and how to be a good ally.
RK: Is allyship similar to partnership?
JM: So, how to be a good ally is not always partnerships. I mean, you do not have to be doing any professional partnerships to be a good ally. You know, that is a whole other topic. I mean, when I am doing community consultations and when I am doing research partnership work, allyship is implicit in all of that because it is about creating safety, creating cultural safety. But also, you know, one way I get to be an ally now is that I have a good job, and I am making a living, because nine years as a grad student, it means living in poverty. And so allyship also means putting your money where your mouth is. I buy art from Indigenous artists, I donate to women, Native women shelters. These are things that I can do now. Allyship is about uplifting, amplifying, and supporting BIPOC communities, and it is work I take very seriously.
Dr. Judith Mintz graduated from York University's PhD program in Gender, Feminist and Women's Studies in 2019. Her dissertation, "What is Critical Yoga Studies? Gender, Health and Cross-Cultural Consumption of Yoga in Contemporary North America" is a multi-site ethnography of yoga practitioners and links political economy, critical race theory, and feminist embodiment theories to produce an analysis of urban yoga as a site of commoditization and healthism. Dr. Mintz's recent publications include “‘Because it’s 2015!’: Justin Trudeau’s Yoga Body, Masculinity, and Canadian Nation-Building” in the Journal of Feminist Studies (2021, co-authored with Jennifer Musial) and ‘“It Was Such Good Medicine for Me’: Contesting the Body Project of Yoga, Health, and Ideal Femininity” in Body Studies in Canada, published by Canadian Scholars Press. In 2016, Judith presented her work on yoga teachers, health, and precarious work at the GLRC Symposium and published in the GLRC Symposium Proceedings (2017). Judith is a faculty member in York's Bridging Program for Women, and since February 2020, Judith has worked as a Research Analyst with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, where she conducts program evaluations, community consultations, anti-racism initiatives, and Indigenous research ethics and policy management. Judith is also a mother of two daughters.
Rubina Karyar is a Master of Social Work candidate at York University in Toronto. She also completed a Master of Arts degree in Sociology at York University in 2018.