Choosing to Challenge the Effects of COVID this International Women’s Day

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Women smiling and standing by window

As this week marks the one year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, it is a good time to reflect on the challenges that we’ve all faced, and continue to experience, as a result of COVID-19. It is especially important that we look not just to our own experiences, but to the broader experience of our communities—especially the experiences of less-privileged and more vulnerable populations that have experienced this pandemic acutely. 

Notably, one of the most devastating results is what is now known as the first “she-cession,” a COVID-induced recession led by job losses among women. Last February and March the majority of job losses occurred in female-dominated industries such as accommodation, food services, retail trade, educational services, health care and social assistance. Women lost 62% of the jobs in the service sector in particular and the overall impact translated to 1 in every 6 jobs for women lost. As the economy began to recover over the summer there was hope that these catastrophic numbers would improve, but as the Financial Post reported this fall, according to Stats Canada, of the 350,000 jobs still missing, women’s losses accounted for 85%. These numbers do not even address those women who have had to navigate decreased hours or a full-time position moving to part-time. 

A study by the Royal Bank of Canada, found women’s participation in the workforce was the lowest in three decades, that women were slower to rebound in the job market as the economy reopens, and women were more likely to “fall out” of the workforce entirely. And for women with toddlers or school-aged children, employment fell 7% between February and May (for single mothers it was as high as 12%)  as women shouldered more childcare responsibilities and navigated virtual homeschooling with daycares and schools closed.

Intersectionality also played a role, as women of colour and minorities have been disproportionately affected by these job losses as they account for a large number of the lower paid category of worker. There is growing concern that the progress women have achieved in recent history might be rolled back. 

The nonprofit sector is not exempt from these losses, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) reported in 2018 that the nonprofit workforce in Ontario is 75% to 80% women. In Imagine Canada’s recent “COVID-19 Sector Monitor Report,” they found that among charities with paid staff nearly a third of charities report having already laid off staff and over a quarter have reduced staff hours—and these numbers may continue to climb. More than half (55%) say that layoffs remain a possibility and 63% forecast potential reductions in work hours. 

So what can we do in the face of these challenges? How are we to address these losses? As this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge, it is a timely reminder, as these statistics and numbers urge us to despair and look backwards, that we continue to advocate and amplify our voices through the support of women’s causes and organizations—now more than ever. With challenges comes change, and when the goal is inclusion, diversity and equity, change is necessary—there is no business as usual. 

Charities are a key element in Canada’s COVID recovery and social services organizations are facing particularly high demand. You can choose to support women and other marginalized groups by supporting a Cause Fund, including the Women’s Health in Focus Fund which helps to create a world where the health and wellbeing of all women is prioritized, the Ending Gender-Based Violence Fund, the Support Mental Health Fund, the Black Solidarity Fund, or the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund

I also encourage you to seek out and support or learn more about charities supporting women, including: 

Dress for Success, which empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools for success.

Women Building Futures, empowering women to succeed in non-traditional careers, creating positive economic change for women and transforming industry in Canada.

the equality effect, which uses law to make girls’/women’s rights real, so that they can live healthy, secure and empowered lives.

Her International, empowering marginalized women and girls through education and life skills.

The many charities working towards ensuring women achieve equal rights, stable employment and housing can help address current inequities and losses.

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