Study shows the response to COVID-19 in Canada disproportionately affects women

Dr. Julia Smith discusses the socioeconomic impact on women due to the pandemic

PHOTO: SJ Objio / Unsplash

Written by: Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer

Women are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to SFU health sciences research associate Dr. Julia Smith. A co-lead on the Gender and COVID-19 Project, Smith has been gathering data since the beginning of the pandemic to inform the policy response to COVID-19. 

The data revealed that frontline workers — the majority of whom are women — are overwhelmed with their work, mental health, and care work in the home. 

Smith explained responsibilities such as taking care of children and elders primarily fall on women. She said, “Women are giving up work so they can take care of children, elderly relatives or, in some cases —  if they’re frontline workers — they’re giving up work because they’re worried about infecting elderly people who are vulnerable.” 

She said this has a great financial cost, “Sometimes they’re giving up work because they can’t manage both.” 

In the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, “women became poorer than men disproportionately and it took longer for women to recover economically.” The COVID-19 pandemic is acting similarly, and Smith acknowledged COVID-19 acts differently across demographics. 

A large number of women have been unemployed since the pandemic began. Smith cited this as a concern because, “the longer people have been unemployed, the harder it is for them to get back to work, so we need to start asking questions about the long term economic effects.” 

The Gender and COVID-19 Project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, has two goals. 

The first revolves around documentation. Using the Gender Matrix, a research tool designed as a framework to be populated by data, Smith and her colleagues intend to record the gendered impacts of the pandemic response. 

The second goal is policy analysis, which Smith described as using the data “to shine a light to policy makers to show the wide-ranging effects that policies have and encourage them to take a more gender-based approach.” 

Smith said in Canada, COVID-19 has not derailed progress towards gender equality — though it has amplified the need for it. “COVID-19 has made things even more urgent [ . . . ] We need accessible and affordable childcare. We need equal pay for equal work. We need affordable housing and access to clean water, including Indigenous communities.” 

You can find more information on the Gender and COVID-19 Project by visiting their website.