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 Government of Canada, more women have been diagnosed with COVID-19 than men. 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.
More women than men have been diagnosed with COVID-19 following vaccination, which 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.
The experience of long COVID – symptoms more than 12 weeks after diagnosis – is disproportionately impacting women. Research estimates that 60-80 per cent of women in their middle years who received a COVID-19 diagnosis are impacted by long COVID. In a Canadian survey of over 1,000 people with long COVID, more than 87 per cent identified as women. The experience of long COVID can impact women’s ability to work, threatening their career advancement and earning potential.
When it comes to the isolation measures imposed to prevent the spread of the virus, four key gendered impacts for women were:
- 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 have experienced additional challenges related to the pandemic. These communities include:
First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities
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, and limited Internet access. Indigenous women and girls also face a higher risk of gender-based violence, which may have been exacerbated by isolation measures. In one survey, Indigenous participants were twice as likely as non-Indigenous participants to indicate being concerned about violence in the home, and Indigenous women reported more concern than Indigenous men.
A 2022 Canadian Women’s Foundation report indicated that Indigenous youth reported high rates of feeling depressed (78 per cent), and anxious (73 per cent) due to the pandemic. Many (74 per cent) said their mental health worsened during the pandemic. Many Indigenous youth have also experienced barriers when accessing support, including a lack of culturally appropriate resources (39 per cent) and long wait times (64 per cent).
East Asian communities
With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people in Canada’s East Asian communities began experiencing more acts of racism. Reports of anti-Asian racism continued to rise throughout the pandemic, and in some cases increased dramatically. Approximately 66% of the reports of anti-Asian racism were filed by Asian women.
Canada has limited tracking of race or ethnicity as part of its COVID-19 data collection. But there are reports that indicate Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
A Toronto report found that Black people and other people of colour made up 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases, despite making up 13 per cent of the city’s population. And Statistics Canada data indicated that the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black people was 2.2 times higher than non-racialized and non-Indigenous populations.
Racialized communities experienced a higher rate of COVID diagnosis due to inequitable living and working conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19, such as lower incomes, precarious employment, overcrowded housing, and limited access to health and social services. Mental health challenges rose as a result of these impacts, yet these communities faced barriers to accessing services. The mental health agency Across Boundaries gave out more than 300 phones to racialized and newcomer Canadians who could not access online services during the pandemic.
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 2020, but almost half of employment losses as of mid-July 2020 (45.0%). Women who were recent immigrants lost work quickly and deeply and are recovering it slowly. By April, 2020, 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-term 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 2020.
Women living with disabilities
Women with disabilities may have experienced increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to, for example, an inability to practice social distancing because of dependence on caregivers. There may have also been 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.