Updated: Jul 8, 2021
I feel pretty confident in saying that this pandemic has sucked for everyone. There has been devastating loss, fear, sadness, anger - nearly every aspect of our lives have changed. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the negative impacts Covid-19 has had, that we maybe don’t talk about as much. As such, I wanted to take some time to call attention to an issue that predates this pandemic, but only worsened with its arrival: women’s labour.
For centuries, women have performed various forms of unpaid labour; the responsibilities of caregiving, emotional support, household duties, etc. have historically fallen to women. In the late 20th Century, feminist scholars coined the concept of the “double day,” which refers to women who participate in the labour force, only to go home and perform most, if not all, of the unpaid labour required at home. As more and more women began joining the workforce, labour inside the home didn’t lessen. Of course, the historic, socially constructed gender roles which deem household work to be solely the job of a woman are much less prevalent and upheld today - but not completely gone. And if we needed proof that these ideals still remain in today’s society, this pandemic provides it.
RBC Economics reports that in the first two months of the pandemic 1.5 million Canadian women lost or left their jobs. Studies show that single mothers and women with young children were most vulnerable. Vandana Juneja, senior director of Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization that helps companies build workplaces that work for women, calls this phenomenon “the motherhood penalty.” With schools and daycares closed, women with children were forced to leave or lose their jobs and take on the role of primary caregiver during the day. Juneja went on to say, in an article with CityNews, “During COVID we have seen that almost half of women say that childcare or household duties are falling to them while working at home. At the same time a quarter of men are reporting the same.”
Since last Spring, when 1.5 million women left their job, some women have returned to work, but RBC Economics reports that female participation in the workforce sits at the lowest it has been in 20 years. And for those women who are back at work, the ongoing pandemic and its fluctuating restrictions maintain a constant state of uncertainty.
What does this mean? In 2021, society still views women work as coming secondary to labour inside the home. The solution? Well, that’s trickier. But we could start with normalizing accessible, flexible, and affordable childcare for all families to ensure that no parent is forced to leave their job. What’s more, we can use this moment in history as a learning opportunity. We can consider these issues being made more visible to be a silver lining in all of this, and work towards fixing it.