Six months ago today, I sent a personal note to our supporters as we headed into the April long weekend. At that time, we were only starting to grapple with the anxieties of a global pandemic and had no understanding of the impact COVID-19 would have on our lives.
Back then, BC Women’s Health Foundation promised that we’d be listening and that we’d synthesize our learnings to advocate for solutions that protect women’s health. Much has changed in six months, and these changes have disproportionately impacted women to make life more challenging by every measure.
By the end of March, one-sixth of all jobs held by women in Canada had disappeared. In mere months, the pandemic knocked women’s participation in the labour force down from a historic high to its lowest level in over 30 years, thus limiting women’s abilities to support themselves and their families.
80% of BC’s health workforce is women. They’re exposed to increased health risks, stress, burnout, and depression while supporting an overburdened healthcare system. Then, they go home where they often serve as the primary caregivers to children, elderly parents, or both.
Many undertook home-schooling. Daycares closed or reduced limited enrolment. Our elderly family members were isolated, unable to have family visit their care facilities. Many had to navigate the complexities of working from home. These stressful, albeit necessary, health measures contributed to an increase in women’s caregiving responsibilities and created a whole new juggling act to manage. The resulting burden being so acute as to cause one-third of women in Canada to consider leaving their jobs in the ensuing months.
Our pandemic-heavy hearts have ached over accounts of women giving birth without their partners, experiencing pregnancy loss without family support, and for the horrific increase in gender-based violence for women isolating in unsafe environments. And these are just a few examples of the stories we’re hearing. We are a part of a growing contingent of organizations calling for a broader discussion surrounding how women’s race, age, language, geography, socio-economic status, and other intersectional factors have impacted how they’ve experienced and navigated the past several months.
These added pressures, anxiety, and fear for our loved ones’ health and safety, impact our mental health. Throughout the pandemic, women have reported more concerns about their mental health than men. And what’s coming is a tidal wave. It’s been forecast that Canada will face a major increase in mental illness with women again disproportionately affected.
Our Foundation is committed to ensuring women have equitable access to quality healthcare. Amid a pandemic, it’s never been more critical to understand the impacts COVID-19 has and will have on women’s health. As such, we are uncovering and exposing these impacts and will continue to advocate and work with governments, policymakers, and leaders in the philanthropic sector to inspire transformational investment and change in women’s healthcare.
As a mother, daughter, friend, sister, and leader, these months have been the most challenging of my life. I suspect they have been for you as well. But, I do believe in our resilience.
This weekend of this particularly challenging year, when it may seem near impossible to consider what I’m thankful for, it’s this: we’re not alone.
I’m grateful for this community. That we’re in it together, and for the solidarity that comes in knowing we’ll be the ones to ensure this pandemic does not set women back any further.
On behalf of everyone at BC Women’s Health Foundation, we send you wishes for good health, love, and safety. Thank you for your support.