Gender, Economy & the Pandemic Recovery

Written by Linnea Nguyen, AI Canada National Organizers Program

While most of Canada’s restrictions born during the height of the pandemic have been lifted, the long-term impacts on the economic rights of women and girls demand immediate attention as Canada, and the world, begins to regain its footing. In the last two years, millions of women’s public-facing jobs have been at the mercy of continuous public health closures, and millions more balanced this with unpaid labour at home.

In May, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released A Bumpy Ride, an analysis outlining how women in the labour force and their economic recovery was severely affected by the pandemic. Its findings bring attention to the need for recovery efforts targeted at women’s economic opportunities.

Compared to men, women experienced disproportionate economic losses as a result of the highly gendered character of the labour market, their concentration in sectors and occupations that have been vulnerable to pandemic restrictions, and the precariousness of those positions reflecting deep-seated gender bias.

– Katherine Scott, A Bumpy Ride

This research incorporates an emphasis on the intersectionality of women and their persistent economic struggles – namely by migrant status, race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, disability, age, and childcare and family care responsibilities. Such intersecting identities and factors require close attention as they expose the different experiences of women, thus creating inclusive data representation and policy recommendations that are attentive to such a wide range of struggles. 

First, economic challenges were most noticeable among women facing intersecting forms of discrimination. For marginalized communities, the weight of the pandemic was further burdened by issues including but not limited to: increased domestic and intimate partner violence, isolation, and economic insecurity. These communities’ pre-existing barriers, including high levels of poverty, housing precarity, and food insecurity were disadvantages in the face of the pandemic’s subsequent loss of income, and more than two years later, the employment barriers persist. The report noted marginalized communities were twice as likely to report financial difficulties than other families. Immigrant women also reported higher levels of financial stress, likely due to their over-representation in lower-wage jobs. The pandemic recovery was more sustainable for professional sectors such as accounting, computer systems design, and scientific research – sectors that have always had gender disparities and where compared to women, men experienced more employment and economic gains.

Women with disabilities faced increased financial stress as the pandemic brought on additional essential needs such as obtaining personal protective equipment, attendant care, and safe transportation. In fact, people with disabilities were the largest group forced to subsist on welfare benefits.

Employment levels of older women ran below pre-pandemic levels as thousands chose to leave the labour market altogether. Young women experienced the largest employment losses in the spring of 2020 as accommodation, food services, and culture and recreation sectors experienced recurring closures. In addition to providing entry-level jobs for young people and newcomers, these sectors serve as flexible employment for women with caring responsibilities..

Recurring shutdowns and online learning brought fluctuating unemployment rates for mothers with each wave of the pandemic. Between February and April 2020, a drop in employment of 235,000 and an increase of 385,000 absences from work was observed from 620,000 mothers. In addition to such employment losses, single mothers have faced heighted financial stress. While pandemic recovery has allowed many mothers to resume their positions in the labour market, employment levels show that single parents do not have the same opportunity.

The need for job protections and flexibility for the care needs at home is emphasized in the comparison of women’s salaries with rising inflation. In the past year, two-thirds of women have seen their wages decrease when adjusted for inflation and the rising cost of living. While the annual change in inflation was 5.7% in February 2022, women’s wages only increased by 2.2%.

While overall employment rates for women have recovered to pre-pandemic levels by December 2021, employment in pandemic-vulnerable sectors such as service and hospitality is still down 11 percent from December 2019. As for job losses in these sectors, women account for 60% cuts. The study’s bigger picture reveals that women experienced disproportionate economic losses compared to men. This comparison is attributed to the gendered character and bias of the labour marker and the concentration of women in sectors vulnerable to pandemic restrictions.

Without focusing and sustaining recovery efforts on the needs of those experiencing the greatest barriers, progress towards greater gender equality will be rolled back and the recovery itself will be prolonged for the most marginalized who have born the worst of the pandemic.

– Katherine Scott, A Bumpy Ride

The lifting of these restrictions, however, cannot be misconstrued as the quick fix or solution. The pandemic and its restrictions exacerbated existing gender inequalities. The chance to be better lies ahead. As the world sifts through the fallout of the pandemic, the rights of women and girls must be at the forefront of considerations of what comes next.