Women bear the brunt of the pandemic

The number of women in the work force has dropped dramatically in the past year as the enormity of balancing home, work, and family responsibilities takes its toll

Women bear the brunt of the pandemic

Photo credit: Getty Images

Everyone has been affected in varying degrees by the pandemic but, for the last year, the global crisis has highlighted and exasperated inequalities between women and men. From working the front lines of Canada’s hospitals to childcare and homeschooling; it’s women who have disproportionately borne the brunt and seen decades of increased equality quickly dissolve.

The closure of schools and daycare centres in March left parents scrambling to balance their home/work/family responsibilities, and women were left handling the traditional gendered roles. Family care during the early months of COVID-19 affected mothers significantly more than fathers, with women taking on more unpaid work — often having to choose between their career and children. Research by RBC Economics, with data collected by Statistics Canada, showed that at the height of the pandemic, the economic impact on women, especially mothers, was immediate and dramatic. Women’s participation in the Canadian labour force plummeted; from 61.2 per cent in February 2020 to 55 per cent in April — its lowest level in more than 30 years.

Quebec hasn’t fared any better than the rest of the country. A survey of 1,500 women by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ) and l’Observatoire québécois des inégalités (OQI) revealed that a majority of women, especially those 18 to 34, found it difficult to reconcile family, work and study, and increased responsibilities. The survey found that women experienced heightened social insecurity, loneliness, mental and health problems, and they feared not being able to meet their financial obligations.

Women who kept their jobs reported having to transform their daily lives; caring for children through school and daycare closures, and performing their professional tasks and meeting the same work objectives – while being forced to work reduced hours and taking on more unpaid responsibilities at home.

Front line workers primarily women

The majority of those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 are women. They account for over 90 per cent of nurses and 75 per cent of respiratory therapists, and represent up to 90 per cent of the Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in long-term care homes and home care work in the community. And despite holding the jobs that are directly involved in containing the pandemic and providing essential care, the annual earnings of working full-time women in Canada is still an average of 75 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Increased violence against women

The pandemic and a lack of social services and support have been especially challenging for certain groups of women, including racialized women, Indigenous women, single mothers, those with low incomes, and women with disabilities.

In addition to working in stressful healthcare situations, facing economic insecurity, and shouldering the majority of child-care responsibilities, women are also at increased risk of gender-based violence.

“The pandemic has impacted us all, and for those facing violence, the impacts have been severe. As we put in place important public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus, Canadians were told to stay home and self-isolate – but home is not a safe place for those who experience domestic or family violence. Because of this, the COVID-19 pandemic created even more dangerous situations for those trapped at home with their abusers,” said a statement issued by the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

As part of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, more than 1,000 women’s shelters and sexual assault centres have received much-needed financial support.

New funds in place for organizations

Thankfully, additional projects and funds will soon be available to further support women’s organizations. On February 11, Monsef launched a call for proposals through Women and Gender Equality Canada’s Women’s Program. The “Feminist Response and Recovery Fund” will provide $100M for projects to help those in greatest need.

The Government of Canada is taking strong action to prevent the pandemic from rolling back progress or reversing the hard-won gains of women in Canada.” Recipients or organizations will be able to launch new projects, or scale up existing projects that support women and girls as they participate fully in all aspects of our economy and society. February 11, 2021 press release

The women’s program provides funding to eligible organizations in three priority areas:

  • Ending violence against women and girls
  • Improving women’s and girls’ economic security and prosperity
  • Encouraging women and girls in leadership and decision-making roles

Women and Gender Equality Canada will direct funding to projects supporting marginalized or underrepresented people, including Indigenous women, Black women, women of colour, women who are members of LGBTQ2 communities, and women living with disabilities or in rural or remote communities.

“The feminist response and recovery fund will support local; regional and national efforts to end violence against women and girls, improve women’s economic security and to increase the participation of women and girls in decision-making roles. Women have been hardest hit by COVID. They continue to take on the majority of the work on the frontlines of the pandemic. The shecession is real and unless Canadian women are working, safe, with their families cared for, we will not fully recover from the pandemic. Our government is investing in women’s and equity-seeking orgs because it’s one of the best ways to advance gender equality,” Monsef said.

The call for proposals is open until March 25, 2021 at noon. Visit women.gc.ca for more information and for details on how organizations can apply.