House Call with Carol Hughes

Women most affected by pandemic’s “she-cession”

One of the features of the pandemic has been how disproportionately it affects us. An example of that is how racialized communities have been hit with an inordinate occurrence of COVID-19 cases. Another is how the economic fallout from the event affects women at a much higher rate than men. This isn’t limited to employment but reaches into other aspects of life such as mental health. This should be no surprise since other pandemics have created similar stresses that have been borne by women more than men. Studies related to Ebola and another for the Zika outbreak that happened in Brazil confirm that.

In Canada, a report from the business consulting firm Deloitte claims that two out of every three jobs lost during the pandemic were held by women. Adding to that stress, the work of caring for children falls to women more than men which may explain why 70 percent of women responding to a recent survey reported they are experiencing negative mental health effects due to the expectation for them to perform this job.

While it might be tempting to think that the majority of women struggling to keep up during the pandemic are limited to those in low paid jobs, mental health issues have been shared by executives and blue-collar employees alike. The difference is what resources each may have available to them to address these issues. With our economic reliance on part-time workers who receive little or no benefits and paid sick days the dividing line becomes clearer.

There is little doubt that a return to school will help in some instances, but that won’t account for all of the problems we are experiencing. Part of the reason is that child care was an issue before the pandemic. Now, the lack of options (especially affordable options) are preventing women from returning to work or entering the workforce.

New Democrats have been persistent with our attempts to bring affordable child care to parents across the country. The system in Quebec has proven its worth and helped more women enter the work-force which turned any expenses into good investments. If we had a national system in place before the pandemic, it would have offered us one more tool to address our challenges. For their part, the government has sounded convincing when speaking about the challenges of families struggling with childcare, but what they’ve offered so far won’t even stabilize the sector, let alone help parents access affordable care. As we build for a better future, the government must invest in a universal child care program.

This week parliament recognized day care as a barrier to recovery when MPs unanimously passed an NDP motion calling on the government to allocate more funding to provinces and territories to help with childcare needs as society reopens. But more must be done in the very short-term. The government needs to invest in making schools safe for kids right across the country. Teachers, workers and our kids need to be assured that Canadian schools are supported and safe. This will help parents have confidence their children’s interests and well-being are attended to.

Sadly, many of the issues that are preventing women from fully participating in our recovery efforts existed before the pandemic. Lower wages for work of equal value, expensive child-care, the unbridled growth of part-time and low-paid work with little or no benefits and sick days, and the fact that most single parent households are headed by women are a few examples. We had work to do on these problems before the pandemic, now we have to ensure those efforts and ideas aren’t sacrificed on the path to a recovery that makes more sense at the board-room table than it does at the family table.