Peoples’ experiences of pandemics are grounded in longstanding social inequalities that impact all of us, every single day. Epidemiological analysis on gender and COVID-19 infection, recovery, and death rates is an ongoing process. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more women have been diagnosed with COVID-19 than men and more women have died as a result. This could be due to the high number of women living in a nursing homes and seniors’ residences. A high number of COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes. This could also be due to factors such as the high ratio of women who work on the front lines of health services, caregiving, cleaning, and other essential roles where workers are at high risk of contracting the virus.
When it comes to the isolation measures imposed to prevent the spread of the virus, four key gendered impacts for women are:
- Increased risk of gender-based violence (See “Why is the pandemic linked to increased gender-based violence?”)
- More economic stress (See “How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact women economically in Canada?”)
- Increased burden of caregiving and housework
- Reduced access to support services
Women and girls who face intersecting barriers and discrimination may experience additional challenges related to the pandemic. These communities include:
First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities
Indigenous communities in Canada were disproportionately impacted by the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, and that may indicate higher risks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada’s history of colonialism has meant that many Indigenous communities experience a number of barriers to health and safety, including overcrowding, isolation, declining infrastructure, limited Internet access. Indigenous women and girls also face a higher risk of gender-based violence, which may be exacerbated by isolation measures. Many Indigenous communities have closed their borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, given the disproportionate risks they face.
East Asian communities
With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people in Canada’s East Asian communities began experiencing more acts of racism. Some business owners have reported fewer customers due to stigma around the illness. Various incidents have prompted a coalition of anti-racism groups to call on the federal government to take action to prevent anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes.
Canada doesn’t yet track race or ethnicity as part of its data collection around COVID-19. But some provinces, including Manitoba and Ontario, are beginning to do so. Still, we are not yet equipped to understand how Black communities and other racialized communities are being impacted differently, and it represents a serious gap in our capacity to respond to the virus and save lives with tailored solutions.
In some areas of the U.S., the COVID-19 death rate has been disproportionately high in African-American communities, which is linked to systemic barriers to health care and economic opportunities.
In Canada, there are ongoing calls on government and health authorities for improved collection of race-based health data.
Women workers identifying as South Asian (at 20.4%), Arab (at 20.3%), and Black (at 18.6%) all reported higher rates of unemployment than non-racialized workers (9.3%) in July. Relatively narrow prior to COVID-19, the overall employment gap between racialized and non-racialized groups has grown to 92.1%.
Immigrant women represented one-quarter of all female workers over age 15 (26.1%) in February, but almost half of employment losses as of mid-July (45.0%). Women who are recent immigrants lost work quickly and deeply and are recovering it slowly. By April, 20% of recent immigrant women who had been employed in March were no longer employed, seven percentage points higher than among Canadian-born women, a result in part of their higher concentration in low-wage, short-tenured jobs. New research shows that they experienced a higher rate of transition to “non-employment” throughout the lockdown and a lower rate of transition to “employment” as of July.
Women living with disabilities
Women with disabilities may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to, for example, an inability to practice social distancing because of dependence on caregivers. There may also be more barriers to practicing hygiene recommended prevention measures.
Senior and elderly women
Multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care homes in Canada have highlighted systemic gaps that senior and elderly women may face in such facilities, particularly related to adequate staffing and oversight.
There is significant concern among Canadians about both the quality (79 per cent) and safety (77 per cent) of our long-term health facilities, suggests the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s National Opinion Survey: Public Concern about COVID-19’s Impact on Women, July 2020. Concern is particularly high in Ontario, and 71 per cent are concerned about family members in long-term care facilities as they stand today.
- 91% agree that standards and oversight of long-term care facilities in Canada must be improved as soon as possible
- 85% agree that we need to prioritize funding for long-term care in Canada.
- 84% agree that we need a complete overhaul of long-term care.
The digital divide and other barriers to online services and information
Increased reliance on digital resources during the pandemic may leave some women and girls behind. Access to technology and digital resources is important not only for updates about the virus, isolation measures, and how to access government aid, but it’s also become a necessity for employment and education while in isolation.
- There’s a digital divide for those living in rural and remote areas of Canada, where communities have less reliable Internet and cellular service.
- People living on a low income may not have personal access to computers or mobile devices, particularly when multiple family members all need access at the same time for work and school. Those who previously relied on public resources like libraries for digital access can no longer do so.
- Senior and elderly women may be less familiar and comfortable with using digital resources to access information and resources related to the pandemic. In Calgary, a phone hotline was set up specifically to serve seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Those living with disabilities, such as vision or hearing limitations, may not be provided with COVID-19 updates in an accessible format, such as closed captioning.