"As we celebrate the contributions women and gender-diverse people have made to make Canada and the world a better place, we commit to pressuring the government to ensure that they have a voice in the economic recovery. As the pandemic has highlighted, the inequities of the past must not be part of our future." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (03 March 2021) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) marks International Women’s Day (IWD) by recognizing the contributions of women and gender-diverse people and recommitting to the pursuit of gender equity and justice.
History of IWD
IWD, March 8, is a day to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women, girls, and gender-diverse people. It is also a day to raise awareness of the work that remains to advance gender equity.
Although the first IWD was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, its roots go back further to the labour movement and social justice organizing in North America and Europe, according to the UN.
In 2021, IWD comes almost exactly 1 year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and lockdowns took effect in much of Canada. UN Women's theme for IWD 2021 is Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. This IWD, we reflect on the gendered impacts of the pandemic and the need for a just and equitable recovery.
Honouring front-line workers
NUPGE has been reporting on the gendered impacts of the pandemic, including the heightened risk of gender-based violence, which disproportionately impacts women who are racialized, living with disabilities, transgender, and unsheltered, and gender-diverse people.
Today, we recognize those on the front lines of the pandemic. Women workers make up a majority of those working in health care, long-term care, child care, social services, cleaning, retail, and accommodation and food services. We also know that women still bear the brunt of informal caregiving, the demand for which has grown during the pandemic.
“We recognize the women and gender-diverse workers—including our members—who have been doing this critical work that sustain our economy, our families, and our communities,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “NUPGE thanks you for your work and is with you in your pursuit of safe and decent work.”
“We know that these workers deserve more than Thank You” continued Brown. "As parts of the country are in the throes of the second or third wave of this devastating pandemic, these workers face risks going to work every day, and we are hearing increasing reports of burnout and mental health strain. We must not let up the fight to ensure all workers are safe at work—and at home—and that the necessary supports and resources are in place.”
Uneven impacts on the front lines
It is well documented that the pandemic has uneven impacts, with vulnerable and marginalized groups bearing the brunt of both its health and socio-economic impacts (PHAC). The pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities of a labour market that was already gendered and racialized.
Racialized workers are overrepresented in the most precarious and dangerous front-line jobs, including sales, service, and supply-chain occupations, such as delivery and warehouse workers (CCPA-Ontario). They are also underpaid and unlikely to have union representation.
Also, racialized women are overrepresented in care work, such as in long-term care and home care, where precarious employment is driven by privatization and underfunding. Migrant care workers, the majority of whom are racialized women, have seen their working conditions worsen during the pandemic, with unpaid wages and human rights abuses, according to a survey by Migrant Rights Network.
Being pushed out of the workforce
There has been an alarming decrease in women’s participation in the formal workforce, as many reduce their hours, or leave their jobs altogether, due to caregiving demands.
It must be noted that Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in Canada have disproportionately suffered from job loss during the pandemic. From August to December, the unemployment rates for Black people and Indigenous people were both 13% — a whole 75% higher than the rate for white people — and it was 11.5% for other racialized people. In the sales and service sector, where most job losses have occurred, 1 in 3 BIPOC women is employed. It’s also the case that BIPOC women have not recovered their jobs as quickly as white women (CTV News).
Between May 2019 and May 2020, there was a jump in the unemployment rates among immigrant women, compared to both Canadian-born men and women and immigrant men (IRPP). In retail, for example, unemployment rates of immigrant women rose by 9%, whereas the rates for Canadian-born women rose by 2.3%.
Public health measures like mandated closures have led to drops in part-time employment, where women and young people are more likely to work.
Gender-inclusive recovery needed
The systemic inequalities that plague our society, our institutions, and our workplaces have been brought to the fore during the past year. It is evident that we need a response to the pandemic and the recovery that addresses these gaps and inequities.
Numerous experts and gender equality advocates are calling for an intersectional feminist approach to the recovery. They’ve drawn up the roadmaps, too. Investments in the care economy, services addressing gender-based violence, accommodations and supports for women with disabilities, and measures to reduce income inequality are among the recommendations.
"As we celebrate the contributions that women and gender-diverse people have made to make Canada and the world a better place, we commit to pressuring the government to ensure that they have a voice in the economic recovery,” said Brown. “As the pandemic has highlighted, the inequities of the past must not be part of our future."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE