Women and COVID-19: What’s New?
Category : Blog
If you’ve been following our blog, you may remember our post about the disastrous impact of COVID-19 on the labour force participation of women in Canada. Today, we’re providing an update on the continued impact of COVID-19 on women’s ability to meaningfully participate in the Canadian economy and outlining some elements of what a feminist economy recovery might look like.
Three Decades Lost in a Matter of Weeks
This past spring, in a matter of weeks, we witnessed the unraveling of nearly three decades of progress in the promotion of women in the Canadian labour force. Between February and October 2020, it is estimated that 20,600 Canadian women have exited the labor force, while nearly 68,000 men have joined.
Unlike the 2008-2009 global recession, where men were more likely to lose their job and experience slow reentry to the labor force, the COVID-19 recession has hurt women the most. This is for a number of reasons, most notably because:
- Women have greater representation in industries that experience slower recovery and less immunity to a second wave of lockdowns. For example, recent BC provincial health orders have shuttered group fitness classes, many of which employ women.
- There are more women in hospitality, retail, the arts, and caring occupations. These occupations do not translate to remote-work as easily as traditionally male occupations, such as tech or finance, meaning women are more likely to be laid off than transitioned to work-from-home.
- With the closure of daycare facilities and lots of students now learning in front of a computer at home, many women have relinquished their jobs in order to fulfill their childcare responsibilities. This reflects an enduring societal construct, as women have traditionally been given the responsibility of childcare. Women’s family responsibilities have become increasingly onerous—often requiring them to cut back or eliminate their work responsibilities.
Prior to this crisis, the labor force participation rate for women in Canada had never been higher. But in a matter of weeks, it grew painfully apparent how far off of genuine gender equality the Canadian economy truly was.
From Bad to Worse
It is evident that the burden of the COVID-19 economic crisis has dramatically altered the trajectory of women’s labour force participation in Canada. But these effects are often magnified for some groups of women more so than others.
A recent economic analysis conducted by RBC indicates that two key groups of women are leaving the workforce at especially alarming rates: younger women and women raising young children.
From February to October 2020, the size of the labor force for Canadian women aged 20-24 decreased by 4.6%. For men in this same age bracket, the labor force participation rate instead increased.
More concerning is the decline in employment seen among women aged 35-39. While both men and women in this cohort have experienced a significant decline in labour force participation, it is worth noting that nearly 50% of the women in this age bracket who have lost their jobs have not searched for a new one.
This is overwhelming due to the increasingly onerous childcare burden experienced by women of this age. Recent evidence has indicated that despite forming only 41% of the labor force, women with children under the age of six constitute over 66% of the population that has exited the workforce for reasons related to COVID-19.
Younger women may decide to weather the recession through education, suggesting that their exit from the workforce is less of a concern than that of middle-aged women. For these middle-aged women, it is plausible that their time away from the workforce hinders future prospects of resuming employment when the pandemic subsides.
Controlling for education, both mothers with and without advanced degrees are experiencing elevated childcare responsibilities that are pushing them out of the labor force, potentially forever. Simply put, very few women are doing “well” during the pandemic, and many are doing “bad” or “worse.”
The Women Left Behind
Women of color also experience systemic disadvantages when it comes to employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. For women of color in Canada, the unemployment rate stands at 10.5%, which is 0.5% higher than that of men of color and nearly 4% higher than that of white women.
While almost 80% of the jobs initially lost in Canada have subsequently been recovered, women of color are often in more precarious forms of employment and have significantly less resources at their disposal. This means that in the economic recovery of Canada, women of color are frequently being left behind.
A Global Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic has “reaffirmed the persistence of gender bias in social and cultural norms” both in Canada and across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, over 28 million women over the age of 25 across the globe have left the labor force entirely for reasons related to COVID-19.
The World Economic Forum also argues that the gender bias embedded in our global economy, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, will push 47 million women and girls into extreme poverty by the end of 2021.
It’s important to recognize that each of these 47 million women and girls is someone with a story and dreams. Due to the systemic gender bias in our global economy that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dooming these women and girls to a life less than they deserve.
So how do we respond to this crisis in a meaningful way that promotes the full employment of women?
The YWCA and University of Toronto Institute for Gender and the Economy suggest the following policy recommendations to ensure that Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is feminist in nature:
- Collect disaggregated and intersectional data on the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis: Without accurate measurements of how the economic crisis associated with COVID-19 impacts different groups, it is impossible to legislate towards better conditions. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments must work together to measure and report the economic circumstances of different segments of the population, like women of color and women with children under the age of 6.
- Allocate at least 1% of Canadian GDP towards childcare and early learning infrastructure: As we’ve seen, childcare is imperative for allowing women to balance family and career obligations. Even before COVID-19, Canada’s childcare infrastructure required a serious increase in investment, and this moment of transition is the perfect opportunity to radically reform this system in order to benefit working moms across the country.
- Invest in job training and professional development programming for those who have experienced the loss of a job during the COVID-19 pandemic: By heavily investing in the development of skilled workers, Canada can level the playing field and allow anyone who is interested to develop their human capital. This can help working moms who may have missed out on networking and experiences during the pandemic resume their role in the Canadian labour force.
- Direct a proportion of public procurement spending to female-owned businesses: Now more than ever, small businesses owned by women need our support. The government of Canada can help by purchasing goods and services from firms owned by women where it is possible.
- Invest in organizations that advance gender equity, intersectional feminism, and women’s rights in Canada: Canada also faces a “shadow-pandemic” of violence against women, with COVID-19 restrictions, stressors, and lockdowns dramatically increasing the presence of abuse against women in communities across the country. To combat this, it is imperative that grassroots organizations grounded in eliminating violence against women and supporting survivors continue to receive consistent public funding.
As the pandemic rages on, transitional housing agencies like Dixon Transition Society continue to experience unprecedented calls for support.
Between April and September 2020, Dixon Transition Society received over 752 calls for space at our Transition House. Unfortunately, over 704 women and children had to be turned away due to lack of space.
At our Second Stage Housing, we received nearly 290 calls and had to turn away 278 women and children due to lack of space. To combat this shadow pandemic, we need your support more than ever.
Be it your time, energy, or a donation, every little thing you do to support Dixon enables countless women and children to begin a life free of violence. Now more than ever, we need your help to fight for a community free of violence against women.