Women's History Month: Celebrating heroes ― then and now

"Women's History Month celebrates the difference that women have made to society and to their communities ― every day and in times of struggle. Now, as we face a historical global challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic, women are once again the heroes on the front lines." ― Larry Brown, NUPGE President 

Ottawa (1 Oct. 2020) ― Today we celebrate the start of Women’s History Month in Canada.

"Women's History Month celebrates the difference that women have made to society and to their communities ― every day and in times of struggle," said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "Now, as we face a historical global challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic, women are once again the heroes on the front lines."

In 1992, the Canadian government designated October as Women’s History Month, a day to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history. Women’s History Month includes International Day of the Girl (October 11) and Persons Day (October 18).

This year, we think about women’s experiences and achievements in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the gendered nature of the crisis.

We are living through history right now

As we reflect on the struggles of women throughout history, we can’t help but think about the struggles for gender equity still ongoing today ― for employment equity, pay equity, and eliminating gender-based violence, to name just a few.

We also recognize that we are living through history right now. Women are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as critical service workers and as caregivers.

A majority of the workers on the frontlines of the crisis ― in primary health care, long-term care, early learning and child care, community social services, retail, accommodation and food services, and cleaning services ― are women. And those who are most precariously positioned ― low-paid and part-time workers ― are predominantly women.

Additionally, women have been faced with growing demands of informal or unpaid caregiving. Women’s labour force participation dropped dramatically due to the pandemic, as women were disproportionately impacted by lay offs and had to leave their jobs or reduce their hours due to caregiving responsibilities.

Growing recognition of women’s work is a welcome development

In these roles, women are amongst those being recognized as heroes across the country.

This is positive. It is important that these front-line workers, especially those in historically undervalued sectors like cleaning, food services, retail, personal support, and child care, are recognized for their enormous contribution to their communities and to our country.

We are also seeing historic recognition of the care work, both paid and unpaid, done predominantly by women. Most recently, the federal government reiterated its commitment to child care in last week’s Speech from the Throne, as NUGPE covered.

But recognition alone is not enough

But women need more than acknowledgements and celebration. While important, they also need the proper supports and material resources to get through this crisis.

Women need real action on pay equity, paid sick days for all, income supports, and health and safety protections. Women need governments to invest in the care economy, including health care, long-term care, and child care. This means investing in people and public services, not pursuing austerity.

Canada’s unions, including NUPGE, have called for a feminist recovery to the pandemic. The federal and provincial governments have a chance to make history, too, by rising to this challenge.

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NUPGE

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