When I think economy, I can’t help but imagine stereotypical things: an opening bell, a chaotic trading floor, the ups and downs of stock graphs.
But the economy is made-up of people, you and me, and it’s deeply gendered. There’s no economy without women, and the problem is that we haven’t valued them the way we should.
I’m Andrea Gunraj.
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Resetting Normal is a series of reports that explore the COVID-19 pandemics impact on gender equality and human rights. The report about women, decent work and Canada’s fractured care economy written by the Canadian Women Foundation, Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, Ontario Nonprofit Network and Fay Faraday says over half of all female workers are employed in occupations involving the five C’s: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering, and cleaning.
These are precisely the types of jobs that have been undervalued. Our primary care and long-term care systems are staffed largely by women. Over 90% of nurses are women, as are 75% of respiratory therapists, and 80% of those working in medical labs. Up to 90% of personal support workers in long term care homes and home care are women. Over 2/3 of the people who clean and disinfect our hospitals, schools, and office buildings are women. Women make up the majority of workers in accommodation and food, community housing and educational services, childcare, business administration and retail.
All of these sectors have taken an economic hit over the past few years and many of the women in them are racialized, immigrant, migrant and/or undocumented. These women are concentrated in the lowest paying, most precarious caring jobs.
In May, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak about what it would mean to value gendered care work at Concordia University presents The Walrus Talks :What’s Next?
Take a listen now, and many thanks to the organizers for their kind invitation.
One woman says my role as a single mother tripled as I managed 3 kids under the age of 15 from home and tried to sustain a consistent paycheck.
Another says the cost of living and housing and food affects my ability to leave an unhealthy marriage.
It affects quality of life or my kids and myself.
Another: I’m at my limit. There’s too much expected of people with dependents. You’re burning out an entire generation of people.
And this: after 20 years of working in health care, the last two years in my field of work has become detrimental to my health.
These are just some of the women and gender diverse people struggling today with caregiving work. They joined the 44% of mothers who two years into a pandemic with gendered impacts, say they’re reaching their breaking point.
My name is Andrea Gunraj and I work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a national leader in the movement for gender equality and justice. And I’m here to tell you that I believe our future depends on transforming the way we value care work.
The story is actually a very old one. Our society is built on women’s unpaid and underpaid care work at the same time that it is founded on stolen land and stolen labour.
Gendered care is a presumed sacrifice that we bank on. It keeps our households, our communities, and our cities running. It underlies the smooth function of the places where we live, work and play. It carries us through life as we face all kinds of challenges. The story of women’s care is written as a difficult one, a journey of underappreciated sacrifice for the greater good.
We’ve built our laws and our policies and institutions on the assumption and requirement that women, particularly racialized and marginalized women, will be there to perform free and undervalued nurturing, education, health and life support for children and elders and families and adults and romantic partners and coworkers and the public at large.
This is a narrative of inherent and natural duty.
We see it at home. Girls and women perform the bulk of unpaid childcare, eldercare and housework. Things are slowly changing but the duties are by no means gender balanced.
We see it in our economy. Over half of women workers are in the 5C’s – that’s caring, catering, clerical work, cashiering and cleaning. Most of these jobs are set up to be precarious, pressure laden, under protected, and poorly compensated. And they’re dominated by immigrant, racialized and marginalized women. In these roles, of course, women have been in the forefront of the pandemic, but they have had little say in decision making in the pandemic response.
We see it at work. So much of women’s time is taken up with unpaid work, so they have less time for paid work. And the paid work they do is not well compensated.
Women also get penalized for parenthood. Think of the motherhood penalty where women lose advancement opportunities because they become parents. Compare that to the fatherhood bonus where men’s compensation tends to bump up when they become parents. And in the workplace, who feels the pressure to do diversity and inclusion initiatives off the side of their desks? Who takes care of staff socials and celebrations? It’s the lowest paid women, racialized women and 2SLGBTQ employees.
We see it in our communities as well. Women and girls are most likely to volunteer their time in Canada. 80% of charity workers and non-profit workers in Canada also identify as women.
Now this is not a case against care, paid and unpaid. It is essential and formative to our humanity. There’s not one of us who doesn’t benefit from it on a daily basis. But this is a case for valuing care work highly valuing it.
As a pandemic evolves, one of the most radical innovations we can pursue is to uplift care, work, and most importantly, uplift and value and support the diverse women and Two Spirit, trans and nonbinary people who have been doing it all along.
We’re living in times of uncertainty and upheaval. Now more than ever, we need to rally together to create the kind of world we want to live in and make no mistake, a gender equal Canada is exactly what we all need.
Join the Canadian Women Foundation for our digital town hall on Thursday, September the 29th at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. You’ll learn about how your tireless support is building gender justice in every province and territory, and you’ll hear real stories of real-life impact. You’ll get a chance to ask your questions and share your thoughts on what needs to happen next. ASL, LSQ and French English language interpretation will be available. Save your digital spot today at canadianwomen.org.
What if they were paid for their unpaid eldercare, childcare, community care and home care?
What if they were paid excellently for 5C jobs?
What if these were set up to be the best professions and not the most hard, the most draining and thankless?
What if migrant care workers had an automatic and clear path to settlement and citizenship?
What if women and gender diverse people weren’t teetering on the brink of poverty as they did care work?
What if it wasn’t a struggle?
In the last two years, of course, recognition of essential work trended. We applauded essential workers as heroes. What if we moved forward with real vision to give care work its due as essential. And take care of the carers, not just because we’re virtuous, but because we understand the enormous social and human and economic benefits of doing it.
Those of us who advocate for gender justice, we’re pushing for three things to happen as a start.
We need to make care work excellent work, excellent pay protection and benefits, excellent working conditions.
We need to make sure that our new national childcare program truly creates universal, accessible childcare, prioritizing the most vulnerable families. And we need well-paid workers here, the right infrastructure and significant funding to match the need.
And we need a big investment in care system for seniors and people with disabilities, including assistance for families struggling with costs.
In our own lives and in our own homes and spheres of influence, we need to proactively take steps to value care work and come alongside the women and gender diverse people so it’s not a struggle.
Are you doing this?
Am I doing this?
Please think about it carefully.
We need progress on gender justice in leaps and bounds.
We need to vote accordingly and tirelessly hold our leaders accountable to it too.
In 2022, it’s more urgent than ever. Our collective future must be a future of care. Thank you.
Alright, now what?
Really valuing gendered care work will take big social, cultural and economic shifts. It’s not going to happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something in our own lives right now.
Think about the ways that you can support women and gender diverse people doing care work in your own life.
Can you raise awareness about the changes that need to happen?
Can you affirm their human dignity and importance?
Can you encourage others you know to treat them right?
Can you pitch in?
Can you be a voice to hold leaders accountable here?
I think we all have to find ways to do things big and small, and the more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve hardly even begun.
You can read the Canadian Women Foundation’s Resetting Normal reports by visiting canadianwomen.org.
Please listen, subscribe, rate and review this podcast and share it with others. If you appreciate this content, if you want to get in on the efforts to build a gender equal Canada, please donate today at canadianwomen.org and consider becoming a monthly donor. And thank you for being tireless in your support for gender justice.