It is often difficult to start a conversation about why things are harder for women, or how some things affect women more or differently. In my experience, some people want to jump in with “what about the men in those situations?” Valid point, however, when we are talking about the experiences of one group, we need to value it and give that conversation space. It is in truly hearing and understanding people’s stories that change happens.
As we move into the phases of the plan to “Renew PEI Together”, I am concerned a Gender Based Analysis lens has not been used to ensure the safety of women from COVID-19 and from unnecessary stress and burden. Using this analysis you are able to assess the different experiences of women, men and non-binary people to policies, programs and initiatives. This assessment ensures equitable support is offered to everyone affected.
The importance of a Gender Based Analysis
For example, we see examples of the absence of this lens in various areas such as:
- The burden of homeschooling. This has largely fallen on women. Women are trying to work and educate or not work and educate. Either way, we recognize and value that our teachers are trained and we are not all teachers! This creates dynamics in the family and stirs up behaviours in children thus making a stressful situation more stressful.
- Many of our essential workers are women. We are hearing from our healthcare workers that this lifestyle is not sustainable and they need a break! How are we going to ensure that they receive this break? We are hearing from many hairdressers who feel that proper due diligence and care have not gone into the planning or prioritization of this service. They are nervous to return to work as they do not feel it is safe yet they do not want to lose their benefits. As a province we could be considering things such as, but not limited to: extra vacation time for nurses as long as COVID-19 stays away, ensuring benefits are not removed from hairdressers or others who are not able to safely return to work at this time.
- Many of the financial supports put in place are going to male dominated sectors such as farming and fishing. What sort of compensation is there for small shops, childcare, hairdressers and other aesthetics where more women are employed?
- Medical supports for pregnant mothers. Women were told at the last minute they would not have access to nitrous oxide during labour, despite this being one of the only non-pharmaceutical interventions available.
Government plans are making things more difficult than necessary
Women are tired, and we are completely overwhelmed. While there is great comfort in not being alone in this, it does not take away the reality. Statistics Canada tells us that women head the majority of single parent households. It is simply reality that childcare and duties in the home largely fall on the shoulders of women.
By not making exceptions to allow for indoor gatherings until Phase 3, it is moms who will suffer. They rely greatly on help from friends and family for support and, in turn, their mental health and well-being.
As I sit here writing this, I am scatterbrained and stressed thinking about what we will have for dinner, let alone what we are having for lunch, which is right around the corner. I am thinking about the fact my house is a mess, the laundry needs to be done, my daughter needs rubber boots, and my son will need new summer clothes. I am thinking about my parents and family members. All the while, I am hearing my children upstairs and am feeling guilty because they are getting way too much screen time and not enough learning time. I sit here feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, and yet I am not alone.
Correcting biases for a stronger community
Now that COVID-19 is no longer leading our decision making and government is starting to look beyond the immediate crisis, it is crucial we, as legislators, understand the importance of women’s work, both paid and unpaid. Gender Based Analysis is a crucial lens in ensuring the effects of government policies and programs do not place further stresses or safety risks on women. The women in our lives deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, especially during these trying times.
Karla Bernard, MLA for District 12 Charlottetown-Victoria Park, is the Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women