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Girls & Women

Women’s Participation in Canada’s Labour Market Is Plummeting Because of COVID-19


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COVID-19 has had devastating effects around the world. From the labour market to housing, agriculture and education, the pandemic has had a profound impact across many sectors of our societies.

In Canada, women are bearing the brunt of the recession in the workforce, according to a recent study by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Statistics Canada.

According to the study, female participation in the workforce has dropped by 55% nationwide in the last three months. More than 1.5 million Canadian women have reportedly lost their jobs — and their unemployment rate is higher than that of their male counterparts for the first time in 30 years.

Unlike the 2008 financial crisis or other previous recessions, women are disproportionately impacted by the downturn, the study found.

Earlier this year, the Government of Canada introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a program designed to give “financial support to employed and self-employed Canadians who are directly affected by COVID-19." 

But while CERB recipients qualify for $2,000 over a 4-week period, the program does not make it easier for women to return to work: only 45% of women (compared to 55% of men) have re-entered the workforce, according to the study.

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The Royal Bank of Canada and Statistics Canada suggest this is due to the nature of the jobs held by Canadian women, who often work part-time or in particularly hard hit sectors — such as health care and social assistance. Given that these industries are female-dominated — eight out of 10 employees are women, according to the study — women are more vulnerable to the virus and to job loss.

To make matters worse, the study shows that young mothers are more likely to stay out of the workforce, partly due to the uncertainty surrounding the return to school this fall. 

Many schools around the world have been forced to shut down in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, and in Canada, closures vastly differ from province to province.

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Today, however, questions remain unanswered as to which provinces will re-open their schools — some, such as Saskatchewan or Alberta, are resuming in-school classes, while others, such as Ontario, have yet to decide which path they will take. 

Many women are therefore reluctant to start a new job that would not allow them to care for their children at home, should they be required to take online courses.

As the coronavirus pandemic is contained and as new solutions — such as a vaccine — become available, a more equitable economic recovery may be on the horizon.

But RBC warns that it could be a long process before women fully re-enter the Canadian workforce.