International Women’s Day is a time for women, men, children and all individuals to reflect on the achievements of women and the ongoing fight for gender equality in all its forms.
It is impossible this year, on March 8, 2021 – the 110th anniversary of IWD – to ignore how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls in Canada and around the world. This year’s theme, Choose to Challenge, is a call to demand change as we rebuild from this health crisis.
In our country, more women have been diagnosed with, and died from, COVID-19 than men. There are a number of reasons for this, including the higher number of women living in hard-hit long-term care, as well as the high ratio of women who work on the front lines of health and caring professions, cleaning, and other essential roles.
The pandemic’s economic hit has been deeper for women, too, especially newcomers and those from racialized communities. By one calculation, women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than those held by men. Women make up 39 per cent of global employment but account for 54 per cent of overall job losses.
That only exacerbates the existing economic reality: women make up 60 per cent of those in Canada who struggle to pay basic expenses.
One third of working women are stuck in low-paying, precarious jobs and research indicates that pandemics and other crises take a higher, longer-term toll on women’s incomes than those of men.
Beyond the economic stress, the isolation caused by pandemic restrictions mean that more women are subjected to violence at home, have limited access to critical support services and health care, and are experiencing increased burdens of caregiving and housework.
And even before the pandemic interrupted their social and academic lives, it was clear our girls were suffering.
Girls in Ontario are twice as likely as boys to report elevated stress levels, poor mental health, having thoughts of suicide, and being prescribed mental health medication.
Of the 129 local programs offering support to more than 200,000 individuals across community, United Way Halton & Hamilton invests in 23 critical programs that support more than 18,000 girls, adult women and senior women in 2020. Yet so much is left to do.
Canadian women deserve true action on gender-based violence. And they deserve high-quality, affordable public childcare, pay equity, and a skills retraining strategy.
It has long been time to do better for women and girls in Canada.
This pandemic is a chance for a reset, and for true realization of gender equality. Anything less is just not good enough.
President and CEO