Emerging Issues

2020: The Year We Failed Women

February 03, 2021

2020 was hard. For many, this is an understatement. Stories, news and studies remind us that worldwide, women and children in particular have suffered greatly since the Covid-19 pandemic began. In various countries around the world, women are working, caring for children and, in many cases, spending their days doing unpaid domestic work and unpaid care for family members. Children have been ripped from their regular routines, daily socialization, and academic studies. For many others, they have lost their one safe place: school.

mother looking sympathetic with hand on childs shoulder

The pandemic has also aggravated inequalities, especially in certain groups of women: Racialized women, Indigenous women, single mothers, low-income women, immigrant women, transgender-identifying women, women with disabilities, and those living in rural areas. Job losses related to Covid-19 have also been highest among these groups of women, particularly Asian and Black women.

Closures of schools and daycares have added another element of stress and hardship. In many cases, parents have had to take on homeschooling, or rely on a mix of caregivers and family members. As a whole, mothers have been more affected than fathers when it comes to handling the child care and additional household workload responsibilities. Historically, access to child-care has a direct correlation on maternal labour force participation. This means that when child-care centres and schools close, those most affected will be mothers. For some, this will result in costly career sacrifices. In Canada, women have been forced to quit their jobs due to a lack of child care. In fact, the pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force to the lowest level we’ve seen in the past thirty years. Even as the labour force begins to pick back up, recovery of employment among men tends to be more advanced than women. The gains we have worked so hard to achieve are threatened by the effects of the pandemic. (Canada’s June Labour Force Report).

It is also important to note that women of colour, those living in low-income households, and women without college or university education have fallen the furthest behind. For many single and low-income working moms, they have been forced to choose between spending a large portion of income on child care (if it’s available) or leaving the workforce to care for their children.

daughter taking care of senior mother looking outside through window

As we look closely at the many, often silent, costs of the pandemic, we cannot undermine the correlation between the pandemic and the sharp rise in domestic abuse worldwide. The additional stress of balancing work, child care and education is directly tied to this rise in domestic violence and child abuse. Job loss and economic instability are also critical factors in domestic abuse. The increase in unemployment has ubdoubtedly prevented women suffering from abuse with the ability to leave. Along with this, we have seen reduced capacity and restrictions in shelters, as well as reductions to services that help women and children fleeing abusive situations. Without alternative sources of income and a safe place, many have been left living with their abusers.

Identifying victims of abuse has also become more difficult. With many workplaces shuttered, the opportunity for coworkers to notice the signs of abuse has diminished. Get-together with family, friends and neighbours have all but ceases in most places. In-person medical appointments have been replaced with virtual ones or cancelled all together, in many cases leaving safety screening left behind. Furthermore, those stuck at home with their abusers will be unable to seek help if they are not able to leave. Medical offices have traditionally been safe places for patients to disclose abuse, or for practitioners to see signs first-hand. The loss of these in-person appointments has reduced the safety screening for patients experiencing intimate partner or family violence. It’s also meant that those in rural communities or those without reliable internet access or access to technology are not as likely to seek help due to these restrictions.

This past year has seen suffering everywhere, whether because of the virus itself, the lockdowns, job loss, or worsening family situations. While there is suffering across all groups of people, women appear to be the ones falling furthest behind. When we talk about the pandemic, especially in the media, we need to be focusing more on these hidden pandemics. Information specifically for survivors of violence or women at risk of violence is key during these times.

Ensuring a greater availability and accessibility to essential services for women and children who experience abuse is paramount to protecting some of the most vulnerable groups in society. We cannot continue to ignore what is happening behind closed doors. Failing our women and children should not be an option. They deserve more.

June Labour Force Survey

A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19

Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls and service provision: UN Women rapid assessment and findings