Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday January 28, 2020 in Ottawa. As Canada continues to combat the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, women’s rights advocates say not enough focus has been placed on the unique and often disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development Minister Maryam Monsef responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday January 28, 2020 in Ottawa. As Canada continues to combat the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, women’s rights advocates say not enough focus has been placed on the unique and often disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Broader gender focus needed for COVID-19 response, advocates say

Women are 70 per cent of health and social-service workers worldwide

As Canada continues to combat the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, women’s rights advocates say not enough focus has been placed on the unique and often disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on women.

Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked her department with examining how government spending and policies, including COVID-19 efforts, affect women and men differently — known as ”gender-based analysis plus” — or GBA+, following longstanding Liberal government practice.

But a growing chorus of national and international voices focused on gender equality and human rights say more must be done to ensure Canadian women’s needs are addressed in the government response to this pandemic.

Last week, Trudeau did announce $40 million for women’s shelters and sexual-assault centres across the country. Another $157.5 million has also been earmarked to ensure homeless shelters remain safe and accessible.

Monsef says this funding came after she voiced concern at the cabinet table about the risks women face in situations of domestic or family violence now that Canadians are being told to stay home.

“This hit home for us when the PM had to self-isolate,” she said in a recent interview.

“My team and I got on the phone in that first 48 hours with stakeholders and said, ‘What do we do? What’s our first step?’ And they all said the same thing … ‘Race and gender-based violence is going to increase, so you’d better start ensuring that shelters have capacity, sexual-assault centres have capacity and that different women’s organizations have capacity,’ ” Monsef said.

Monsef said her GBA+ unit, which has been mandated since 2016 to examine all memos to cabinet and Treasury Board submissions, has had its phones ringing off the hook since the federal government began rolling out the biggest emergency aid package in Canada’s history.

“I’ve asked them to restructure our machinery so that we can better respond to the fast pace and the high stakes,” she said.

But Katherine Scott, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says aside from the funding announced for women’s and sexual-assault shelters, she hasn’t seen much evidence the government is applying a gender lens to its COVID-19 efforts.

“It’s not evident to us that WAGE (Monsef’s Women and Gender Equality Department) is very engaged in this,” Scott said.

“This coronavirus is all about women and yet we’re still waiting for more, or at least we haven’t seen that kind of analysis coming forward yet.”

Women are 70 per cent of health and social-service workers worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which places them at the forefront of the crisis and at greater risk of exposure to the virus.

Women are also disproportionately in low-wage, retail and service jobs. For those in higher-paying jobs, a systemic wage gap continues to exist for women compared to their men who do the same work.

Women are also more often unemployed, under-employed or working only part-time due to caregiving responsibilities, either for children or aging parents.

Looking at these factors and including an intersectional lens — taking into account race, age, socio-economic status — women in Canada will be the most personally and economically impacted by this pandemic in many cases.

This was reflected in data released this week by Statistics Canada, showing women among the most hit by COVID-19 job losses. In the core working ages of 25 to 54, the rate of decline for jobs held by women was more than twice that of men.

Last week, 41 members of the G7 gender equality advisory councils from 2018 and 2019 released a joint letter to governments, urging them to take into account the gendered dimensions of this crisis.

The signatories include Nobel Peace Prize winner and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, actor and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and Canada’s ambassador to France Isabelle Hudon.

Their calls include: special measures to support health and social workers responding to the crisis; guaranteed access to sexual- and reproductive-health services including abortion and maternal health; free menstrual and contraception products for girls and women and support for victims of domestic violence.

Government messaging is also needed to encourage men to share equally in child care and housework traditionally carried out by women, their letter says.

Existing inequities are further exacerbated by crisis, Scott said, pointing admonishingly to some of the public messaging that has emerged saying, “We’re all in this together.”

“This is not an equal-opportunity pandemic,” she said.

“How we experience it is vastly unequal… when we are looking at this in hindsight, we are going to see some pretty profound social divisions that were pre-existing that are going to be replicated in those data.”

Consideration is also needed when it comes to the role of the charitable sector, says Andrea Gunraj, vice president of public engagement with the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Charities and non-profits do a lot of heavy lifting in supporting marginalized women, and they are now hurting from reduced staff and volunteers, funding shortfalls, cancelled fundraisers and increased demands.

Gunraj says she was pleased to see early support for women’s shelters and sexual-assault centres, but she hopes a broader GBA+ lens is applied to the government’s policy responses to the pandemic.

“Really the test will be how this intersectional and gender-based analysis is applied in the long-term, that it’s not just isolated announcements, but that we see it applied really across the board in a really holistic way that goes for the length of the pandemic and beyond.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File Photo)
Calling all Elkford non-profits: Bursary Program registration is now open

The bursary gives $1,000 to a local non-profit to assist with community-related projects or programs

(File Photo)
Elkford Business Walks to begin in February

Topics of discussion include changes, successes, and the impact of COVID-19 on businesses

(File Photo)
KES brings employment education to those over 55

The Encore program is targeted to adults past traditional retirement years looking for employment

Angel Flight East Kootenay was one of the three recipients of funding from the inaugural Giving Event. (Photo Contributed)
100 local women collect $10,500 for community organizations

The 100 WWC Fernie donated $3,500 to three grassroots organizations via their first Giving Event

Colleen Braconnier and her care aid, Karla McKie, outside of Rocky Mountain Village. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
‘We have such a good group here’: Local senior keeps head held high throughout pandemic

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped RMV resident, Colleen Braconnier, from remaining positive

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Most Read