Gendered impact of COVID-19

By Jenn Watt

As we brace ourselves for a potential second wave of the coronavirus, with hundreds more positive tests coming back each day in Ontario than a month ago, we should be sure not to forget the demographic taking the hardest economic hit during the pandemic: women. 

A report released by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce points out that unlike in other recessions, the effects of COVID-19-specific measures have had a greater impact on one gender than the other. 

Figures released in The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario show much greater job losses for women. Between February and March of this year, about 140,000 jobs were lost for women, with half that number lost for men. Women’s job losses continued to outpace men’s throughout the summer. 

The report’s authors found that one reason for this was that the economic downturn is affecting jobs more traditionally held by women: retail, food, accommodations, arts and recreation, and social services. Many of these workplaces shut down during the early days of the pandemic and have been restricted in how quickly they reopened, and to how broad a clientele. 

Women also still bear more of the brunt of childcare responsibilities in our society, and when daycares and schools were closed, found themselves needing to stay at home or reduce their hours to care for their children. 

Women entrepreneurs are also more likely to be operating newer businesses with smaller operations, less well financed than those run by men, making their position in the economy especially precarious. 

In our county, we can see how women are affected by this pandemic by surveying the businesses that were closed the earliest and the longest, the ones that are only admitting a fraction of their previous customer base, or which have scaled back their hours. 

The She-Covery report gives recommendations on how we as a society can better assist women through the pandemic, advising that more women of diverse backgrounds need to be included in decision-making bodies involved in the province’s economic recovery. Child care must also be made more accessible, available, and affordable – sooner than later. Other recommendations include training for women in male-dominated sectors, addressing barriers to women entrepreneurs, and encouraging government policies that allow for more flexibility in the workplace. All which will benefit not only women, but the wider economy and society as a whole.