Toronto – September 28, 2020 – Over the last 150 years, women in Canada have made notable strides towards gender equality in our workplaces and communities, and each year activists across the country honour Women’s History Month to celebrate those gains.
Held every October, Women’s History Month includes the International Day of the Girl (October 11) and Persons Day (October 18), which aim to raise awareness of the barriers that prevent full equality for women around the world.
This year has been challenging for everyone; and additionally distressing for women, as the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities, and exposed vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic systems that are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades. Most of the job losses linked to the coronavirus have taken place in
female-dominated industries, including accommodation and food services, retail trade, educational services, health care, and social assistance. These factors carry significant economic consequences, as they are not only devastating families but are also widening the gender wage gap between women workers and their male counterparts.
However, this crisis has also made frontline essential workers “visible” and “valued” in a society that continues to undervalue and underpay those who work in retail, hospitality, education, and health care, among other sectors. Many of these workers are women who have fought for a living wage for years only to be told by governments and employers that their labour isn’t worth it.
Thankfully, these workers are finally “being seen” by the public for the vital support they provide to keep us fed and safe, to clean and disinfect workplaces so that we can stay healthy, to care for us when we are sick, and to deliver us the services and goods that we need to survive. But too many non-unionized frontline workers – and women especially – live in precarity and lack access to equal pay for work of equal value.
As Canada works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to deliver economic security for women workers by prioritizing gender pay equity. And we can ensure that more women are able to enter and remain in the workforce by calling on our elected officials to make universal childcare a reality for all families.
This Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the valuable contributions of women workers, while demanding a better, fairer, and more just Canada where women are paid equally, have access to a living wage, and don’t have to chose between providing for their families and caring for their children.
Paul R. Meinema