The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly intensified numerous existing inequalities, and has hit women the hardest at many levels, including reduced health, finances, security, and social protections.
Soon after lockdown measures began, many women lost jobs that could not be performed virtually. It has led to the deepening “feminization of poverty” (a term coined by Dr. Diana Pearce in 1978), where women have disproportionately experienced massive job losses and increasingly less independence across every sector of society.
Poverty of women is on the increase, with more severity when compared to men. Statistics Canada (2022) states that 10 percent of women in Canada live on low incomes. Those who face multiple barriers are at higher risk of poverty, including racialized women, women with disabilities, and single mothers
The social and economic barriers amplified by the pandemic put women at danger, with greater possibilities of poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, and domestic violence. A UN policy brief indicates that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic worsened for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex. The Canadian Women’s Organization shares that in a matter of months the crisis reduced women’s workforce participation to its lowest level in three decades. Before the pandemic, women held only two-fifths of global employment opportunities, and accounted for more than 60 per cent of the one million jobs lost as of March 2020.
As we can imagine, the majority of women workers hold front-line jobs that require in-person services. These women are among the worst paid people in the country, and many are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. These essential jobs in health care, food service, cleaning, customer service, and caregiving often provide little or no options for sick leave or working from home.
Social distancing and quarantine measures meant that many women had to continue working even while caring for their children with little or no support. In some cases, they had to choose between their jobs and taking care of their own families.
We have heard it echoed across the world by thinkers and researchers that for social and economic recovery to be restored to all, efforts must take a feminist approach. They believe that women should, and can, live their best lives in the most essential ways, even as we all pivot into new ways of functioning effectively.
How do we perpetuate the gender divide and the negative impacts that broken economies and systems have on women? Even more importantly, how can we support the women in our families, communities, and workplaces who are feeling the impacts of a strained national and global economy?
Decent pay for all workers is not a marginal issue; health and health care are not commodities that can be traded. We cannot afford to lose sight of human rights, gender justice, and environmental protection when faced with tough times. As these issues continue to take centre stage, and as we work and hope for an end to this most tough time, remember the most important thing the virus has taught us: that we are all dependent on each other. To be fully human, we all need to care for others, as well as we all need be cared for.