Women & COVID-19: Effects will linger long after the pandemic ends

Somewhere in Alberta, a nurse and mother of two, has been sitting in the parking lot of her local grocery store for 15 minutes. Her two sons arguing over a bag of crackers in the back seat, are the soundtrack to her internal debate of whether she should go back home. She and her husband have been arguing a lot lately. Three months of quarantine have taken their toll. What normally would be a few disagreements, have turned into weeks of violent outbursts and broken dishes.

She thinks about moving in with her mother, but her mother is immunocompromised. As a nurse, she is exposed to COVID-19 every day and can’t risk bringing it back to her mother’s house. She already feels guilty about potentially exposing her kids to the virus every time she goes to work. She is exhausted from back to back shifts at the hospital and home schooling her kids. She is tired at the thought of dealing with another argument at home, but she feels she is out of options. She turns the ignition, asks her boys to buckle up, and makes her way back home.

Millions of women across Canada are dealing with the serious ramifications of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought gender inequalities to the surface  and amplified them. From the onset of the pandemic and imposition of quarantine measures, women in Canada have experienced increased domestic violence, higher rates of exposure to the virus, higher rates of infection and death, and have borne the brunt of limited access to child care and caregiving programs. This has taken a toll on the mental health of women across the country. Women will not only suffer the greatest impact of the pandemic; they are also more likely than men to experience the negative long-term effects created by the spread of COVID-19.

In part I of PSAC’s series on Women & COVID-19, we examine the impacts of the pandemic restrictions have on women’s safety and mental health.

Escalating gender-based violence

The isolation measures  in place to prevent the spread of the virus, while necessary, have had gendered impacts for women such as an increase in domestic violence. Gender-based violence is always a threat to the safety and well-being of women. According to The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner. However, because of isolation measures, women, non-binary and trans people are now more likely to be confined in a space with their abuser.

According to the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), since the beginning of March there has been a significant increase in the number of calls from women who are facing domestic violence; and due to the pandemic, there are many more who cannot safely reach out for help. Women who have experienced domestic violence during the spread of COVID-19, will continue to deal with the psychological and physical effects long after the pandemic has ended.

Increased child care demands, caregiving and housework

Another factor in the strain on women’s health is the addition of child care demands while working and the increase in caregiving and domestic duties. Before the spread of COVID-19, statistics showed that women perform more unpaid housework and caregiving responsibilities than men.  Women are more likely to perform domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and caring for sick or elderly family members, while potentially caring for children simultaneously. Quarantine measures and self-isolation has increased these responsibilities.

This month, Statistics Canada launched a survey to begin to gather data to measure the impact COVID-19 on parents. Many families have anecdotally shared their stories of increased stress caused by having to care for children or take on homeschooling duties, while working from home. Though the government is looking at increasing funding for the early learning and child care sector, it is unclear what the fallout of months of closures will have on the already strained system. A lack of accessible, affordable and safe child care spaces falls back on women, which impedes their ability to return to work, and limits their financial independence. This can often lead to mental health issues or make women more likely to stay in abusive situations.

Mental health strain

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) conducted a national survey to better understand the impact of the coronavirus on mental health. In general, all Canadians have had their mental health impacted to some degree. The survey results show that 1 in 4 Canadians report increased anxiety levels, and 1 in 5 report feeling depressed occasionally or most of the time. However, women, particularly those with children at home, and young adults, were more likely to feel both depression and anxiety, then any other demographic.

To help prevent women from suffering the debilitating long-term effects of physical abuse, anxiety and stress, this government needs to:

  • expand the availability of safe, licensed, emergency child care to parents of preschool and/or school-age children who are required to work through the pandemic, free of charge;
  • provide increased resources to shelters across the country to ensure they can help with those facing gender-based violence;
  • provide affordable and accessible alternatives for those seeking mental health services

Take Action

How can you help? Donate to the Tireless Together Fund, a national emergency fund created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The fund goes to supporting organizations and programs that are supporting women through the pandemic, such as staffing shelters, providing child care, emergency food and transit passes, as well as personal protective equipment from COVID-19.



July 17, 2020