I don’t think many could say that they were prepared for how quickly things shifted when COVID-19 became a reality in our province. On one Saturday night I was enjoying dinner with friends at one of our favourite local restaurants in Mount Pleasant. The following Saturday, several shops on my street were closing their doors indefinitely.
Shortly after, I learned that BC has the most women-owned small-businesses out of any province in Canada, and that they were the fastest growing before the COVID-19 pandemic. I couldn’t help but think how all of this would affect them. All of a sudden small businesses were forced to reimagine how they do business, how they reach their community, how they stay relevant, and how they persevere.
So our team at the BC Women’s Health Foundation created a project that celebrated these women-led small businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists across BC… while still supporting our organization’s mandate — to advance the full spectrum of women’s health.
I have made many “asks” in my 3.5 years at the Foundation: for people to donate their time, money, services, and products in support of women’s health. But I had never experienced such an overwhelmingly positive and energetic response. This was during such an unexpected time, when small businesses were known to be struggling. In only one month, we had over 140 self-identified women leaders who were keen to donate, support one another, and engage with our cause. Their decision to lead with the spirit of generosity was what made the Changemaker’s Market the huge success it was, raising over $45,000.
And you might ask, “how exactly does this tie into women’s health?” But we only need to look as far as the existing stats to know the answer.
Employment and income is a strong predictor of physical and mental health. And in March 2020, the monthly decline in employment for women was more than twice than that of men. So to me, I knew the conversation was about more than just income. It was about women who were holding it together — holding their families together — while facing the reality that the pandemic might force their businesses to shut down permanently.
Today, in 2020, women are still proven to take on more unpaid responsibilities at home… even if they don’t have kids. When the United Nations reports “women do nearly three times as much unpaid domestic work as men,” our minds immediately jump to childcare. But tasks like cooking, cleaning, or even caring for elderly parents go largely unnoticed.
So if the pre-pandemic stats tell us that “men are more likely to remain in full-time work for the entirety of their careers, while up to 40% of women shift to part-time at some point” — I think about the families, couples, and individuals being forced to make really tough decisions about how to “make things work” over the past several months.
That’s how this conversation is intrinsically linked to mental health. And we’re finally starting to name it. But it’s also linked to physical health too. When 31% of BC business owners are thinking the pandemic might force them to shut down permanently, it’s easy to see how a routine pap test, or booking your next mammogram might get pushed down your to-do list. It’s understandable how the basics of supporting a healthy lifestyle — like sleep, diet, and exercise could be put on the backburner when you’re supporting the needs of your family and their livelihood first.
The stories our Changemaker Market participants shared throughout the week were about showing up for each other, but they were also about showing up for themselves. They spoke so candidly about their stress and anxiety, the “darker corners” of their lives that made it that much more important to come together. They spoke about the value of community, and how holding each other up, especially during a time like this, is vital.
Thank you to every single person and organization, who in some way or another, supported the Changemaker’s Market and its vibrant community. Now that our market has wrapped, let’s continue to support one another in whatever capacity that feels right for you.
As isolation measures are lifting and small businesses are re-opening their storefronts let’s ensure that our communities not only remain intact, but exude resilience and strength.
– Sarah Clark, Director of Strategic Partnerships, BCWHF