Thank you. I'd like to first thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to testify before you today regarding the impact of COVID-19 on women or, as I like to reframe it, the intersectional gender impact of COVID-19.
To start, I'm sure we all agree that we live in a country that isn't equal and where gender inequality persists. You can see this to be true by looking at the many barriers that women and other marginalized or under-represented populations in the workplace experience, which I see every day in my work. You can also see gender inequality in the lack of women in leadership and in domestic violence rates in this country, by examining the ingrained biases and stereotypes that we all have and that we've all learned, and by looking at gendered sectors and the value or worth that society places on them.
For instance, sectors heavily dominated by men are given greater value than those by women, and sectors dominated by women tend to still have male leadership. Also, there is the persistent gender wage gap. You can pretty much examine any sector in Canada and find evidence of gender inequality, and this was our reality pre-COVID-19.
We were also starting an economic slump pre-COVID-19, especially in Alberta where I'm based. As you typically see in economic downturns, violence against women increases, caregiving responsibilities to women increase, and many of those other gender inequality indicators skyrocket.
Now, once COVID-19 hit, it accelerated and exacerbated all of these inequalities. Then employment dropped related to social distancing measures, creating a large impact on sectors with high female employment shares. The virus itself doesn't discriminate based on gender or sex, but its systems and sectors that we have created and designed are discriminatory. COVID-19 is the flashlight illuminating all of the cracks of inequality in our system.
The workers who are most affected by COVID-19, those who we rely on to keep us safe and informed are, by the very nature of their jobs, at most risk of contracting COVID-19, and they are predominantly women. Our health care sector is dominated by women in Canada. Nurses are 92% women, lab techs are 80% women, respiratory therapists, who are very important during COVID-19, are 75% women, and home care workers and personal support workers are 90% women. These workers at the front line of fighting COVID-19 are all predominantly women, and this extends beyond the health care sector to other jobs on the front line of COVID-19. Our grocery store workers are 84% women, food service industry workers are 72% women, and janitorial staff are 71% women.
When we look at the non-profit sector that includes food banks, shelters, women's shelters, homelessness supports and support for people living with disabilities, that sector is 75% women. That sector alone employs over two million Canadians but also relies heavily on a volunteer workforce of over 13 million people with the majority of those, which is incredibly important, being unpaid labour that helps support our most vulnerable during COVID-19 and, again, they are predominantly women. This sector in particular has also been crippled by a lack of financial relief and by having to delay or cancel fundraising activities.
Then, when we look at the health workers in non-profit sectors that are predominantly women, they also require PPE to do their work and stay safe. We've seen a drastic shortage in PPE that is designed to fit women's bodies. We know that the majority of PPE, even though it is deemed unisex, was designed with only average male bodies in mind, so we are unable to adequately protect these women working on the front line.
The education system is dominated by a female workforce. Teachers are 77% women, and TAs and EAs are 96% women. They have all been drastically affected by COVID-19. When we look at the closing of schools, this results in predominantly women having to home-school their children, having to become their own day cares or care for elderly parents, neighbours or co-workers while meticulously cleaning and sanitizing their homes now in addition to the usual grocery shopping, organizing and laundry, and this is on top of working their usual day job. We know this because 75% of women caregivers in Canada are also employed full-time. We know that women are more likely to work over 20 plus hours a week than men as a caregiver and twice as likely to provide personal care. These stats come pre-COVID-19.
When we apply an intersectional lens, we also learn that racialized women have more caregiving responsibilities than white women. Alternatively, as you know, COVID-19 has also resulted in women having to completely drop out of the workforce due to these heavy caregiving and schooling responsibilities. A study was recently conducted to verify this and found that the majority of women who were seriously considering quitting their jobs during this time due to this caregiving were single mothers, then racialized women, followed by Asian women and then white women.
We also know that in March alone labour data revealed that women accounted for two-thirds of job losses despite making up less than half of the workforce to begin with. Those who didn't lose their jobs lost 50% more work hours than men. Also in March, women between the ages of 25 and 54 years—that core working group—lost more than twice the jobs than men in that same age group. Nearly half of this decrease was among women working in part-time and often low-paying jobs in the service or care industries.
In other cases, it's been reported that women are choosing to exit the workforce. Between February and March, the number of core-age women who were not in the Canadian labour market grew substantially, by over 10%, but this isn't a choice to leave the workforce. It is a need, because, for example, in heterosexual relationships, women are typically paid less than their male partners and are expected to be more responsible for caregiving, and now someone has to do it and look after children and school them, because they're all at home together. The CERB program may help these women in the short term, but this unfortunately will also have longer-term negative effects on their career and future earning power. That needs to be considered.
The pandemic has also resulted in heightened domestic violence. Shelters, support organizations like the YWCA and organizations that provide informal support to survivors, like Sagesse in Calgary, as well as policing agencies, have all reported heightened domestic violence rates. Several of them mentioned that the rates were lower at the beginning of the pandemic due to strict social isolation when women were trapped at home with their abusers, as an example, and then, once restrictions started to loosen, the rates just skyrocketed.
We also know that women are more likely to experience poverty and have lower incomes. Women work two-thirds of minimum-wage jobs, putting them increased risk of unemployment and a greater risk of poverty.
All of these impacts that have been documented thus far contribute to greater gender inequality in Canada. In order to mitigate these disproportionate impacts and to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19, we need to ensure that all of our decisions are made with an intersectional gender lens to ensure we're not repeating these patterns of inequality and discrimination and that we can begin to make incremental and lasting change for the betterment of everyone.
I'm an advocate of gender-based analysis plus, or GBA+, and it's incredibly important to ensure that this lens is being applied to all COVID-19 response, management and prevention decision-making. Now is the time to double down on GBA+. A good GBA+ analysis doesn't examine just sex and gender but also includes race, ethnicity, culture, language, ability, age, sexual orientation and other factors such as geographic location. The government's GBA+ informed program would then be more effective and tailored to specific regions in Canada to remove barriers that specific populations may experience.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission, the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council and the United Nations, along with a multitude of gender equality stakeholders across Canada and the world, have been advocating for countries to take a feminist approach to COVID-19. If we don't double down and ensure that an intersectional feminist lens like GBA+ is effectively applied to all of our decisions and interventions, we will fail Canadians, and women will continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.