The pandemic exposed gender inequality: Let’s seize the opportunity to remedy it

This year, we commemorated International Women’s Day alongside the three-year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. While Covid-19 affected everyone, it did not affect everyone equally.

The pandemic exposed many aspects of inequality, including socioeconomic inequality, accessibility and gender inequality. The pandemic destroyed the momentum towards more emancipatory gender relations by disproportionately harming women and gender diverse people, according to the United Nations and Canadian Human Rights Commission.  As the world reopens after the global catastrophe, the urgent call to reset “normal” in a more emancipatory way rings louder. There is an opportunity to capitalize on the potential offered by the pandemic to rebuild our professional, business and personal lives.

Potential for change

As the lockdowns progressed, businesses and governments began to acknowledge the unpaid care labor done largely by women in unprecedented ways.

The Canadian government, for example, has announced a plan to bring $10-a-day child care to every province and territory by 2026.

The pandemic also demonstrated how changeable and contingent things are: we stopped doing many normal activities, creating space for possibility and changing the future of how certain things, like work, are done.

Although hybrid work has become widely practiced around the world, there has been little or no change to the accommodations offered in relation to unpaid work. Hybrid work, while beneficial, is no panacea for those with caregiving roles whose care work can be made invisible by hybrid work itself.

Resetting normal

As we mark International Women’s Day, we remain in a limitless space of possibility resulting from the pandemic, but we won’t remain here for long.

While we are still re-establishing norms, we need to work within businesses, governments, and our own personal lives to reset—not replicate—gender relations, building gender equality into our new normal.

We must undertake policy actions to subsidize childcare, ensure flexible work schedules, identify opportunities to promote equitable health care, close gender wage gaps, normalize male parental leave, and provide mental health support for employees.

As gender consultants Stephenie Foster and Susan Markham wrote of gender equity and the pandemic:

“We can use this as an opportunity to reimagine a different future, one that values gender equality, women’s participation and women’s leadership. Women must be part of COVID-19 response and recovery planning and decision making. We must value the unseen work done by women.”

The radical shifts that result from crises like the pandemic invite us not to just restore old patterns when the calamity has passed, but to learn from them and move meaningfully forward. We urgently need to make meaningful change now, before the potential for us to learn from the lessons offered by the pandemic disappears. The Conversation


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