Pandemic amplifies, heightens existing inequalities, writes
A Black immigrant woman stresses when she loses her job. An Asian newcomer woman is trapped in a cycle of abusive intimate partner violence with no social support networks. And an Indigenous woman’s social enterprise earnings take a drastic fall because she has no resources and capacity to take her business digital and beyond.
These are the stark realities of BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) women in our communities and how they have been tremendously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is just the tip of the iceberg with much more catastrophic examples of lived mental health challenges. The pandemic has amplified and heightened all existing inequalities including systematic racism with an uproar and demand for Black Lives Matter, as well as pandemic stigma against Asian immigrants.
Its impact on women has been labelled as the ‘shadow pandemic’ because it has further exacerbated gender inequality, placing a social and economic disproportionate toll on women and girls. Economists have referred to it as a ‘she-cession’, the first in history.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce in its report highlighted how women’s labour participation rate had fallen to its lowest in 30 years in Ontario. Job losses, labour precarity issues, and closure of schools plus household isolations in Canada meant that the paid care of children and homeschooling shifted to women. Our September Spotlight Series covered these issues extensively.
At Skills for Change, we serve thousands of women, mostly racialized immigrants, newcomers and refugees. These women have felt and faced an even greater burden because they were already struggling prior to the pandemic to integrate in communities and assume decent jobs to build their livelihoods and make greater contributions to the Canadian economy. We have seen a skyrocketed increase in the demand for our women’s mental health services, as the pandemic has further isolated the already marginalized women communities with limited ability to interact beyond social bubbles.
To support our women communities to cope, we have had to pivot innovatively to provide psychological and emotional well-being support including virtual mental health counselling, online networking and professional support for women, provision of laptops to access virtual programming and learning, as well as distribution of essential supplies to unemployed and low-income communities. Additionally, we have scaled up our bridge training programs to facilitate skilled women workers to find meaningful employment through a host of programs including on IT, entrepreneurship, and a variety of apprenticeships in skilled trades and horticulture.
The virtual delivery of programs and workshops has generated a broader reach and engagement for these marginalized women, but a lot more still needs to be done. We need to reimagine a future that creates a level playing field for BIPOC women. We need policies in place to future proof women’s futures and contribution to the economy.
Our October Spotlight Series, focused on “Pathways for an Equitable Reset” brought to light the need for intersectional policy measures such as decent work with paid sick leave requirements; pay equity; affordable early learning and childcare; creation of an Anti-Racism Directorate; and disrupting and dismantling the systems that have created the inequitable distribution of power, wealth and resources, among others.
Join the next discussions on Dec. 1 at skillsforchange.org/spotlight-series to ensure that no one is left behind.
This article was originally published on Toronto.com