4 Ways Women are Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

What began as an expected ground-breaking year for the advancement of gender equality, quickly transformed into a disproportionate impact against women, especially in the work force, due to COVID-19, according to a latest UN Policy Brief.

From February to April, the beginning of the outbreak restrictions in Canada, women across all age groups lost more jobs than their male counterparts, according to the report.

Ironically, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever produced for advancing women’s rights that continues to be the foremost guide for the struggle against female oppression worldwide. The platform sets out to create a world where every woman and girl can express her choices and freedoms, and fully realize all her rights including living a life free of violence, with the opportunity for schooling, and to earn equal pay.

However, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has put decades worth of progress at risk of being rolled back, strides, albeit at times marginal, that have been made since 1995 towards more egalitarian social and economic outcomes for women. Inequality in its many forms, and wide-reaching familial and societal effects, is now in many ways more prevalent than ever before and can only be properly addressed if put at the forefront of national discussion.

Here are the top 4 ways the United Nations believe women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the current pandemic:

Economic Impact

Women and girls are generally earning hence saving less, and holding more insecure jobs. While this was true prior to the outbreak, it has been exacerbated by the economic shutdown. From February to April women across all age groups lost more jobs than their male counterparts. This was especially true for younger women, many of whom are teens and new entrants into the workforce. Younger people also tend to work more part-time hours in industries most heavily affected by shutdowns, such as in hospitality and service positions.

Employment change (%) by age group and sex, Canada, February to April 2020:

15 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and over
 Men -30.5 -12 -13
 Women -37.9 -13.2 -14.2

Source(s): Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey.


Although more men have died of the virus worldwide, women are adversely affected by re-allocations of medical resources and services, especially related to sexual and reproductive services. And if cancelled appointments and hospital backlog aren’t bad enough, Dr. Rachel Spitzer, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital, says it’s financial obstacles such as no longer being able to afford prescription medication like birth control has become  the most pressing issue in Canada at present.

Unpaid Care Work

Care work has increased as women take on the additional weight of caring for children, elderly and the sick due to limitations within child and healthcare systems, a burden already heavily carried. What happens when schools and daycares are closed, yet the economy starts opening back up and both parents are expected to go back to work? Women make up about half of the Canadian workforce and really do seem to be expected to juggle it all. The same can be said for their American counterparts as a 2019 Gallup poll found that women still handle the majority of household tasks such as laundry, cleaning, and preparing meals.

Gender-based Violence

Increased stress plus restricted movement from social isolation and quarantine mean that women are in the line of fire more. Strains on the healthcare and other support systems have left many women to face their abusers alone, as shelters across the country have become overrun and lack funding. Statistics Canada reports that 1 in 10 Canadian women fear violence at home amid the pandemic.

The UN report notes that to best tackle these issues, our societies need to re-focus on both ensuring equal representation among those involved in critical health and economic decision making and addressing the need for a change in compensation in care economies, including teachers, nurses and those unpaid. In Canada, in addition to the Canadian Economic Response Benefit (CERB), the government hopes increases to the Canada Child Benefit, funding to address gender-based violence, and even additional backing to support female entrepreneurs will ‘do the trick’, but it is yet unclear if any of the given suggestions for long-term systematic change will be implemented over or in addition to the short-term economic roll outs currently keeping the country’s women and families afloat.

Carlie Doan | Coordinating Editor

For a list of resources assisting women across Canada, visit the COVID-19 Women’s Initiative. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Assaulted Women’s Helpline Crisis Line here:

Toll-free at 1-866-863-0511

Toll-free TTY: 1-866-863-7868

Text #SAFE (#7233): On Rogers, Fido, Bell, or Telus Mobile

Connect to resources: Shelter Safe https://www.sheltersafe.ca/



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