Thank you very much.
My name is Paulette Senior. I'm the president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. I'm pleased to be presenting to you today.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation is Canada’s only national public foundation for women and girls and one of the 10 largest women’s foundations in the world. In our over three decades now that we've been around, we've been granting and doing work that has been focused on moving women out of poverty and out of violence and into safety and confidence.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee this afternoon to discuss the urgent question of the government’s pandemic response. I say “urgent” because of the mission of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which is “transformative change in the lives of women and girls in Canada”, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted women. Women’s safety, livelihoods and well-being have all been put at risk, most severely for women from communities that are marginalized by systemic discrimination. The pandemic has shone a penetrating light on gender-based violence, women’s job losses, care work and the need for child care.
The federal government has taken many helpful steps to date. As the economy reopens, federal investments will be crucial to women’s safety, economic security and well-being, and gender equality. Recovery investments must include all women, especially those facing deep systemic discrimination, and continue to advance equality gains. Achieving that will require applying an inclusive gender-based analysis with an intersectional lens to the process of designing government recovery investments.
More than 60% of the one million jobs lost in March were lost by women. April employment figures showed a sharp increase in men’s unemployment as construction and non-essential manufacturing halted, but by the end of that month, women had still experienced greater losses, as 32% of women and 29% of men had lost their jobs or the majority of their work hours.
Those job losses are highly concentrated among the lowest earners. For women earning $16 an hour or less—a highly racialized population—job losses in February to April were over 50%. The top 10%, earning $48 an hour or more, experienced only a 1% loss of jobs, and women lost all of those. Overall, women earning the lowest 20% of wages experienced job loss at 50 times the rate of top earners. This is the type of granular data revealed by the intersectional gender-based analysis needed to support recovery investments.
The majority of women workers, about 56% or so, are employed in occupations grouped as what we call the “five Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. These jobs are largely either care work directly involved in pandemic response or retail work with an uncertain return-to-work date. How much of the job loss experienced by women will be long term remains to be seen, but it will be significant and likely focused in retail.
This is no time for shovel-ready physical infrastructure projects employing a workforce that is 90% men. Construction has reopened in much of the country, and tomorrow’s employment numbers will likely to reflect that. It is time to implement the social infrastructure that supports women’s return to work.
Quick implementation of the Canada emergency response benefit has been a helpful income support strategy for those who can access it, but a plan is needed for women whose employers cannot reopen after 16 weeks and who are facing long-term unemployment. Employment strategies need an intersectional gender-based analysis and need to address the existing structural issues—like the wage gap—exacerbated by the pandemic. The federal government needs to lead a process to implement the announced 10 paid sick days and to continue to emphasize income supports.
Women—largely black and racialized women—predominate in the care sector in providing front-line support and containing COVID-19, all too often from precarious part-time jobs in high-risk conditions and without paid sick days. Women make up as much as 90% of personal support workers working in long-term care homes and providing home care in the community. More than 65% of—