OHS Canada Magazine

A tale of 2 pandemics

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August 11, 2020
By Johanna Pagonis

Health & Safety COVID-19 editor pick women

COVID-19 is impacting women disproportionately more than men

COVID-19 is affecting more than health-care systems and economic markets — it’s also having an especially detrimental impact on women. (valentinrussanov/Getty images)

When reviewing statistics on where the world is at in terms of gender parity, one can see that no single society has yet to achieve equality between women and men. And now the COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying existing inequalities and gender gaps.

The truth is, the pandemic is impacting women disproportionately more than men. This phenomenon can be referred to as the tale of two pandemics — or more specifically, the pandemic the health-care system and economic markets are dealing with, and the pandemic women are experiencing.

In March, Statistics Canada indicated women ages 25 to 54 lost 298,500 jobs compared to men in the same age group, who lost 127,600.

One reason is that the largest job losses were in the hotel and food industry, which are predominantly occupied by women. These types of jobs are also more likely to be part-time and do not include benefits such as sick leave.

Another challenge facing women is caring for their children and/or elderly parents. Add home-schooling to the mix and you have a recipe that includes mental and physical stress, which can lead to potential burnout.


Women continue to disproportionately carry the burden of child care and domestic labour at home. Even though there are more women entering the workforce, they are still doing more of the housework and have less relaxation time than their male partners.

Women on the front lines

From health-care workers to teachers and mothers, women are on the front lines of this pandemic.

Now that our economy is reopening and we are returning to our physical workspaces, this presents a new challenge — who will take care of the kids when mom returns to work? Never mind the potential of getting infected with COVID-19 and bringing it home.

Another disturbing statistic that has emerged from the pandemic is the increase in gender-based violence. This impacts me on a personal level.

In 2008, I was in an abusive relationship and exploring my options to leave. Thankfully, I mustered up the courage and got the help I needed, but that came at a cost.

I chose to leave the home for my safety, and as a result my partner stopped paying the mortgage. Thankfully, I managed to settle with the bank and avoid bankruptcy.

I can’t help but think what if this had happened to me during a pandemic? Where would I go? It would be very hard to look for a new place to live or request help, knowing my partner is working from home and watching my every move.

My mind shifts to women who are currently in violent relationships and living through COVID-19. How many of them have lost their jobs? How many of them are not eligible for employment benefits? How many of them live in a community that has no internet and is three hours away from a hospital or shelter?

How can we support women and other individuals who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19?

Women leading the way

We can learn a lot from women leaders who are excelling at navigating their countries through the pandemic.

The actions of female leaders in New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Taiwan, Germany, Iceland and Norway have demonstrated they are managing the crisis better than their male counterparts.

Why you ask? Let’s look at diversity and inclusion for the answer. When there is an effort to include diverse perspectives in addressing complex problems, it can lead to a holistic and comprehensive solution. This is gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) in action.

The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that this type of analysis goes beyond biological and gender differences like race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability.

Perhaps women leaders are better at including diverse perspectives in their strategies, since they have typically been left out of the conversation in the past.

Given the realities and challenges women are tackling today, women and men have to unite and support each other through this time.

No one knows what the future will look like, but there is one thing I do know. Women are resilient, agile and strong.

We have overcome adversity in the past, as we will in the present — and the future.

Dr. Johanna Pagonis is the owner of Sinogap Solutions, a leadership consulting firm in Sherwood Park, Alta.

This Hot Topic column was published in the July/August issue of OHS Canada.


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