Just the Facts
International Women’s Day 2021

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the contributions of women to our country. Canada is home to many diverse population groups who enrich our society in a variety of ways. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights the many ways these groups strengthen our society. Unfortunately, it has also created new challenges, particularly for women, as they have faced increased work at home and significant losses in the labour market. Several recent publications detail the impact of COVID-19 on women and how women are adjusting to these challenges.

Women in Canada are diverse

On July 1, 2020, there were 19,119,977 women and girls in Canada, representing about 50% of the total population.Note  The female population in Canada is diverse as can be gleaned from a variety of data sources:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) girls were 17 years and under, 3 in 5 (62%) women were 18 to 64 years, and 1 in 5 (19%) women were 65 years and overNote 
  • Almost one quarter of women (24%) aged 15 and over reported a disabilityNote 
  • Close to 1 in 4 (23%) women are immigrantsNote 
  • Almost 1 in 4 (23%)  women belong to groups designated as visible minorities Note 
  • Indigenous women and girls make up 5% of the total female population in CanadaNote 
    • Of those, 6 in 10 (59%) identified as First Nations, just over a third (35%) as Métis, and 4% as Inuk. An additional 1% reported multiple Indigenous identities, while 1% did not identify with an Indigenous group but reported having registered Indian status and/or being a member of an Indian band.
  • About 2% of women aged 15 and over identified as bisexual and 1% identified as gay or lesbianNote 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights women’s ongoing contributions and their many responsibilities

Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, women in Canada have been working hard at home, in the workforce, and in their communities. They are leaders in public institutions – in 2020, 29% of seats in federal parliament were held by women and 49% of ministerial positions in the federal government were held by women.Note  They are mothers – in 2017, 46% of women aged 15 to 49 had at least one child under 18.Note  They are workers – 60% of women aged 15 and over participated in the labour force in 2020.Note  They are volunteers – 80% of women volunteered in 2018.Note Note 

The pandemic continues to highlight the many contributions of women in Canada. Through looking at women’s participation in the labour market, increased household responsibilities, and experiences in their community, we can understand the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women made up a high proportion of front-line workers

Women are leaders on the front-lines of the pandemic as teachers, health care providers and essential workers in various industries. In the 2018/2019 school year, women represented 75% of educators in public elementary and secondary schools.Note  Over the period from March to May 2020, women accounted for 87% of registered nurses and 41% of physicians.Note  Nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Particular groups of women are more likely to be represented in these occupations – for example, immigrant women represented 31% of nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates but represented only 13% of all other occupations.Note 

Women in the workforce during COVID-19

In the early months of the pandemic, women faced greater job losses. In March 2020, women’s employment declined by 7% compared to 4% for men.Note Note  By April 2020, the cumulative employment loss was more similar for men and women (17% decline for women compared to 15% for men).Note  Women’s larger employment losses were due to the types of industries where they are more likely to work and the types of jobs they are more likely to hold. Women are more likely to work in retail and accommodation and food service industries, industries which have been particularly susceptible to closures. Note  Women’s greater participation in part-time work is often to balance their household responsibilities and part-time work was also particularly vulnerable to employment losses.Note 

Women homeschooling through COVID-19

With lockdowns affecting child care and other caregiving responsibilities, women are taking on more work to care for their families and communities. In June 2020, approximately 64% of women reported that they were the parent mostly responsible for homeschooling or helping children with homework compared to 19% of men.Note  Gender differences in home responsibilities could be related to gender differences in stress. In April and May 2020, 31% of female participants in a Statistics Canada crowdsource survey reported most of their days as “quite a bit stressful” or “extremely stressful” compared to 24% of male participants.Note  This difference was even more pronounced among Indigenous crowdsource participants where 46% of women and 32% of men selected the same response.Note 

Concern about violence at home and experiences of discrimination during the pandemic

There is evidence indicating that home is not always safe during the pandemic. According to a web panel survey in March 2020 that asked Canadians how concerned they were about different situations, women were more concerned about violence in the home during quarantine and social isolation. Nearly twice as many women (10%) compared to men (6%) reported that they were concerned about the possibility of violence in the home.Note  Results from a crowdsourcing survey in April 2020 echoed this finding. Women in all age groups were more likely than men to report being very or extremely concerned about the possibility of violence in the home (9% vs 7%).Note  Young women aged 15 to 24, however, were significantly more likely to report that they were very or extremely anxious about the possibility of violence in the home (12%), relative to men in the same age group (8%).Note 

Beyond the workplace and home, the pandemic is having an effect on women’s experiences in their community. Fear and misinformation about the virus may disproportionately impact the sense of personal and community safety of some ethnocultural groups. Results from a May 2020 crowdsourcing survey found that more than 1 in 3 visible minority women felt unsafe when walking alone after dark, compared with 1 in 5 visible minority men.Note 

Women leading by example in their communities through COVID-19

Despite these challenges, women are protecting their communities through their actions. In October 2020, the overwhelming majority of Canadians reported wearing a mask in public places (98%), washing their hands more frequently (96%), maintaining a two-metre distance from others (96%) and avoiding crowds and large gatherings (95%).Note Note  While there were not significant gender differences in many of these precautions, women were more likely to avoid leaving the house for non-essential reasons (77% vs 70%).Note Note  This gender difference was even more pronounced among Indigenous respondents – in September and October 2020, 79% of Indigenous women and 66% of Indigenous men reported they were avoiding leaving the house for non-essential reasons.Note Note 

As the pandemic continues, disaggregated data is a useful tool to understand how diverse groups of Canadians are affected. For more information on diverse groups of women, check out the Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics Hub:

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Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics Hub

Statistics Canada’s Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics has established the Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics Hub, which allows for easy access to data and analysis disaggregated by sex and other identity factors. Data tables and analysis cover a wide-range of topics, including education, families, income and time use.

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