An Intersectional Approach to COVID-19 She-Covery
May 27, 2020 | By Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, Manager of Advocacy, YWCA Toronto
“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
– Audre Lorde
"There's no recovery without a she-covery and no she-covery without child care.”
– Armine Yalnizyan
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Women, girls and feminized people are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that are very different from men and boys. According to the latest data from various federal agencies, women in Canada are more likely to contract and die from COVID-19 than men. They are also more likely to have their livelihoods and safety compromised by the virus. Women’s involvement in paid work, unpaid care work, and their increased risk of violence in the home due to the pandemic requires an intersectional gender approach to recovery efforts.
In paid work, women are concentrated in minimum wage jobs, frontline health and cleaning professions, and social services work, exposing them to greater risk of contracting the virus. Women constitute 90% of Canadian nurses, 75% of respiratory therapists and 90% of personal support workers in long-term care and nursing homes. The economic fallout is also greater for women. Women make up just under half (47%) of all paid workers in Canada, but account for two-thirds (63%) of all job losses. Among workers in the core demographic aged 25 to 54 years, women represent 70% of all job losses thus far.
Outside of paid work, women and girls are more likely to engage in domestic and care work, including assuming care responsibilities for children during school closures. Women bear the double burden of paid work and caregiving, which has only heightened in the context of COVID-19. This is not without mental health consequences. COVID-19 is forcing many women to be employees, parents and teachers all at once. For women in low-income households, there are often few supports to rely upon, and social and physical distancing measures have restricted community support mechanisms.
Pandemic measures that advise people to “stay home” to reduce risk of transmission are also experienced differently by women. Many women and girls face a heightened risk of violence at home with isolation measures. The home is the most common site of violence and lethality for women experiencing intimate partner violence. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) which represents over 70 shelters, has stated that 20 percent of their organizations have experienced an increase in calls since the pandemic began.
Thus, the impact of this public health outbreak is notably gendered. The pandemic is exposing, and exacerbating, existing social and economic inequalities. An intersectional approach to recovery is needed because gender intersects with class, race, Indigeneity, immigration status, ability, sexuality, gender expression, geography and other dimensions that can compound inequalities and mediate experiences of marginalization, poverty and violence. Simply put, being a woman is not a singular experience. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, a celebrated scholar and activist, explains in a recent interview, intersectionality is
a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.
Gender inequality cannot be easily teased apart from other forms of inequality. Individual circumstances intersect with one another to compound or mitigate structural inequalities. Presuming an ahistorical figure of a woman in equity discussions erases the distinct forms of oppression faced by actual women who are poor, Brown and Black, queer, disabled, trans, Indigenous and/or gender nonconforming.
When viewed through an intersectional lens that is centred on gender, it is evident that diverse communities of women in Canada face a range of risks during this pandemic. These experiences must be accounted for in a meaningful way and centrally inform recovery planning. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to COVID-19 recovery efforts will likely fail to meet the needs of women and girls, heighten gender-based inequalities, and increase social and economic disparities. Capturing the diverse experiences of women, girls and gender-diverse communities can help paint a more accurate picture of COVID-19 impacts and help formulate policy responses that address the complex needs of communities marginalized through interlocking systems of oppression.