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Health Literacy and Your Immune System

The COVID-19 Pandemic Is a Gendered Health Crisis

Simple illustrartion of the backs of a line of people with their arms around each other
Simple illustrartion of the backs of a line of people with their arms around each other
Andrea Gunraj

Andrea Gunraj

Vice President of Public Engagement, Canadian Women’s Foundation

In some senses, the COVID-19 pandemic knows few bounds — and it has created unique impacts on the health and well-being of diverse women.

To grasp the overwhelming scope of these impacts, we need to think beyond the virus and consider the social determinants of health, which Health Canada defines as the personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that determine individual and population health. Through that lens, there’s no question that existing gender-based inequalities have deepened in recent months to devastating effect.

Women’s challenges during the pandemic

The pandemic led to early job loss, and women represented almost two thirds of it despite making up only half the paid workforce. While men’s jobs have since recovered somewhat, women’s jobs haven’t recovered to the same degree. Of course, all of this is added to women’s skyrocketing caregiving and housework demands, which were already disproportionality on their shoulders.

Alarmingly, rates of gender-based violence like intimate partner abuse and sexual assault may also be on the rise due to isolation measures, as reported increases in crisis line calls suggest. The rates of this violence were already high before the pandemic. Approximately every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada. And our recent survey found that 38% of Indigenous women, 32% of women with a physical disability, and 41% of women with another type of disability experienced physical violence in their personal life.

It’s no wonder we’re already seeing gendered mental health impacts of the pandemic — women report more stress, anxiety, worry about the possibility of violence at home, and difficulty sleeping than men. Gender-diverse people report even poorer mental health than those who identify as women or men.

Building a new and equitable normal

When we look at those who have become most vulnerable in this pandemic, “going back to normal” isn’t an option. They’re vulnerable now because they were too vulnerable before.

The needs of diverse women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people must be at the centre of the recovery. Amongst other things, this means we must ensure tailored services and supports are there for them. We need significant investment in long-term care and affordable childcare. And we need to move on a visionary national action plan to end gender-based violence, once and for all.

From a surge in victimization and economic insecurity to overwhelming caregiving demands and high risks of viral contraction in frontline health care and service sectors, diverse women face the brunt of our current public health crisis. A gendered recovery plan that responds to the needs of all women is Canada’s opportunity to build a new gender-equal “normal” that’s better for everyone.

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