Over the last week, there has been a lot written about the gendered impacts of COVID-19, and I am adding my voice to the case being made: This pandemic is experienced differently by women, men, gender diverse people and people with overlapping identities.
If we are all going to bounce back from the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, then we need to get into the habit of applying an intersectional gender analysis (GBA+) to our emergency responses, relief program initiatives, communications strategies and policies.
We need to look around the decision-making tables and ask, “whose voice is missing?”
We need to look at our new coordinating partners and ask, “whose knowledge and experience are missing?”
We need to look at the data we are gathering and ask, “who is not represented?”
We need to look at our communication strategies and ask, “who does and doesn’t this speak to?”
We have a unique opportunity to really analyze and develop inclusive solutions that work for the most isolated and underrepresented in our communities, and gender analysis can help with that.
It's hard to deny that gendered norms are putting women in the direct pathway of the virus. Women’s roles and high representation in paid and unpaid healthcare, as primary care providers of children, seniors and family members, and women’s over representation in the non-profit/social services sectors makes them significantly vulnerable.
[NB: Approximately 91% of nurses in Canada are women, while no official count has been taken of personal support workers, it is estimated that there are 1 million in Canada and 100,000 in Ontario. I was unable to find data on the number of women, men or gender diverse people. 80% of the nonprofit sector labour force in Canada consists of women workers.]
Women are also at risk because of poverty, precarious work, and risk of violence. The Canadian Women’s Foundation has valuable fact sheets on women’s economic development and gender based violence. Some statistics that they have gathered includes the following:
30% of single mothers are raising their children in poverty
34% of First Nations women and girls live in poverty
21% of visible minority women and girls live in poverty
23% of women with disabilities live in poverty
16% of senior women live in poverty
Women make up the majority of Canada’s minimum-wage workers, and a third of working women make less than $15 per hour. About three-quarters of part-time workers in Canada are women.
In order to juggle their domestic responsibilities, many women choose part-time, seasonal, contract, or temporary jobs. Unfortunately, most of these jobs are low paid, with no security, few opportunities for advancement, and no health benefits.
67% of Canadians know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse.
Indigenous women are killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women.
6,000+ women and children sleep in shelters on any given night because it isn’t safe at home. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home
With the current emphasis on self-isolation and quarantine at home, I’m very mindful and worried about all of the women and children who are not living in safe homes right now. As demonstrated, if you add an intersectional lens to women’s roles in work, at home and in society, we can see that some women are especially at vulnerable: First Nations, Métis and Inuit women, racialized (visible minority) women, women with disabilities, senior women and LGBTQ2S identifying.
Now is the time to stop designing for the ‘default male’ but to centre responses on isolated, marginalized and underrepresented populations. Now is the time to look around the decision-making tables and ensure diverse women and groups are invited to contribute their experiences and voices.
Let’s use this unprecedented moment to build our GBA+ capacity and knowledge, and enhance our responses by considering intersecting gender differences. It may not be perfect but gathering diverse perspectives, doing some analysis, and using the insights to inform solutions can move us toward relevant, impactful and sustainable results.
You could start by incorporating women’s voices and experiences in planning and decision-making. As front line workers, primary caregivers and household leaders, women are playing a valuable role in flattening the curve and can add insight into how best to protect those most vulnerable. You could also start asking key questions, such as the following:
What capacity and systems does your organization have to conduct an intersectional gender analysis of the issue(s)? Which leaders or partners can you call upon to fill in any gaps?
Which specific equity or inclusion concerns are related to this issue (e.g., safety, accessibility, affordability, cultural specificity, family responsibilities, access to decision making, racial profiling)?
Are other important factors for analysis considered (socio-economic status, geographical location, age, sexual orientation, racial/ethnic roots, ability, etc.)?
Challenge your assumptions about gender and other diversity implications. For example, how does this issue affect women, men, and gender diverse peoples in different ways? What about other intersecting identities?
I encourage government and organization leaders across all sectors to conduct an intersectional gender based analysis assessment (again, it won’t be perfect but it will be a start), create an inclusive process and engage a broad diversity of women, and LGBTQ2S identifying people for insights into how to approach this unprecedented challenge.