COVID-19 — A Burden Felt by Women

By March 19, 2020 No Comments

As the world hunkers down in an attempt to curb the transmission of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, most everyone is feeling the burden on some level. There’s no doubt that burden will weigh heavily in women’s lives.

For starters, it is largely women who are at the front lines of this crisis. Comprising 82% of health workers in Canada, women are the ones caring for the sick as coronavirus spreads at an exponential rate. These healthcare workers have the highest risk of exposure to coronavirus. And working in gruelling conditions with little time for rest and recuperation renders them even more vulnerable, as rest is essential for a strong immune system. These workers are going home to their families exhausted, while still having to manage the impact the virus is having on their children and loved ones.

The majority of single-parent households in Canada are helmed by women. And even in dual-parent homes, women still take on the majority of unpaid labour to facilitate their families’ lives. With children home from school for the foreseeable future, women will have their hands full at home — even more so than usual. This will be particularly challenging for mothers who are trying to work and maintain their livelihood while their kids are out of classes.

We are also seeing how this worldwide health crisis is impacting workers with low job security. As it turns out, women are over-represented in precarious jobs. Contract workers, freelancers, food industry professionals, part-time employees — these are people who work hard for their money with no benefits or sick pay. They may also be ineligible for regular employment insurance benefits in lean times. Many of these workers are reporting loss of jobs and income amid the measures being taken in response to the novel coronavirus, and this is going to have long-term effects for them and their families.

With loss of income comes concern over potential loss of housing too. The housing crisis in Canada’s major cities is already hurting low income Canadians across the country — particularly women.  And as we are being directed to self-isolate in our homes, we are seeing more than ever why lack of housing is such a huge barrier to well-being. For those without homes, the potential for harm caused by coronavirus is all the more stressful and frightening.

While self-isolation is the best thing to do during this time, it may have a negative impact on abuse survivors who are still living with their abusers. Times of stress often lead to an escalation in abuse, especially when that stress in financial. Some women are living a nightmare, locked up at home with their abusers, not a moment of reprieve. Even if they want to leave, being holed up constantly will make it near impossible for some women to escape until the threat of the virus has passed and life can return to normal. In China, activists say cases of domestic violence have risen, as many have been isolating and quarantined. We have to assume that cases are rising here in Canada too, and that women who might have been ready to leave an abuser behind may now have to wait until a safer time to do so. Shelters like Interval House will see the results of this when everyone is cleared to return to work and activities as usual. There will likely be heavier demand for services.

So, you might be asking, what can you do to support women during this difficult time? We have a few ideas:

  • If you know someone who is being abused, share Interval House’s crisis line with her if it is safe to do so. We continue to monitor our crisis line around the clock.
  • Reach out to your loved ones, friends and family regularly to check-in and stay connected while we are in social isolation.
  • Connect with single parents and offer whatever support you can while their kids are off school.
  • Check in with your friends who have precarious employment and ask if you can help them. Whether you can help with finances, send supplies, or just provide moral support, your care and concern will go a long way.
  • Set up chat groups and video conferences to keep everyone you love connected for the duration of isolation.
  • Reach out to health workers and other essential workers you know and say thank you! They are keeping this ship upright in a storm and we owe them a great deal of praise and appreciation for the hard work they are doing.
  • Donate to Interval House to help ensure we have the resources we need to help women escaping abuse after the threat of coronavirus has passed.

We are all dealing with an unprecedented threat on public health. Now is the time to come together (virtually) to make sure our most vulnerable don’t fall through the cracks. We have the power to help each other out. That’s a responsibility each of us bears.

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