Discover more from The Orchard
COVID exacerbated gender inequality
New CCPA report details changes to rates of gender-based violence, wage gaps, mental health and other factors during the height of the pandemic.
Gender inequality has grown worse by many metrics over the past few years, despite a few bright spots, according to a Sept. 27 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
“The pandemic has graphically revealed the shortcomings of our current systems of income security and public services, notably gender-based violence services and supports,” CCPA researcher Katherine Scott, who wrote the report, said in a media release providing an overview of its findings.
“If there is one message to take forward it is that change on gender equality is possible, but concerted action and progressive alternatives at all levels of government are needed to get us there.”
I’ve secured a surrogate to go on the Rebel Cruise next year and feed me audio to report on. In order to send them on their way, I’m going to need 50 new paid subscribers by the end of the year. If you like my work and want to see me cover this event, please consider a paid subscription.
Still in Recovery: Assessing the Pandemic’s Impact on Women is based on the CCPA’s Gender Gap Index, which measures gaps between men and women across five domains:
Economic participation and security
Leadership and political empowerment
At its outset, the report notes that the pandemic “not only threatened people’s health but exposed and exacerbated entrenched inequalities.”
The higher the score on the index, the more gender equality there is, so a score of 100% means full gender parity, whereas a score of 0% would indicate total domination by one gender.
From 2019 to 2022, the overall index declined to 78.6% equality compared to 79% pre-pandemic.
Broken down by province, the figure was the highest in Nova Scotia (80%) and lowest in Manitoba (76.9%).
While there were some gains in addressing gender inequality since 2019, they were offset by even more significant losses:
Increased educational attainment and women’s representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations were more than offset by declines in women’s mental health and the increased threat of violence against women and gender-diverse people.
Likewise, a strong job recovery helped boost women’s economic participation, including among historically marginalized groups, but the gender poverty gap widened at the same time, signalling that many are being left behind.
The report identified a gap between men and women in leadership roles as “a key factor pulling down overall gender equality scores across the board.” Just 42.7% of the gender leadership gap has been filled, making it the single largest gender divide in the CCPA’s index.
In B.C., the index was highest at 54.1%, whereas it was lowest in Manitoba at 37.8%, representing a 15.3 percentage point gap between the highest and lowest performing provinces.
On this front, however, Scott appears optimistic about the long-term impact of pandemic disruptions:
The widespread adoption of remote work and hybrid work models in 2020 holds out the opportunity for greater flexibility and work-life balance, which has been consistently identified by women as a critical barrier to women’s advancement and extends the opportunity for varied employment to workers who face barriers to working on site.
The second-largest gap was in educational attainment, with Prince Edward Island scoring a high of 81% and Quebec scoring a low of 74.1% for a difference of 6.9 percentage points.
But this is the rare gap that favours women.
In every province but Alberta, women’s enrolment in university programs either outpaced or were roughly equal to those of men.
From 2019 to 2022, the number of women aged 25 to 64 with a university degree increased by 3.5 percentage points, compared to 2.8 for men.
In Alberta, however, during the same time span, the number of men with university degrees increased by 9.2 percentage points, compared to 2.2 for women.
But once they graduate, women are still on average making less money than men across the country, with 54.1% of women working in devalued C category jobs — caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning — in 2021. By contrast, just 18.7% of men work in these fields.
These numbers have changed little since 1987, when 59.2% of working women were employed in these fields compared to 15.7% of men.
The persistent disparities in types of work reflect one educational disparity that favours men — their heavy concentration in high-paying STEM fields. In 2021, just 11.8% of women had STEM degrees — a slight increase from 2016 — compared to 29.8% of men.
“The highly segregated character of postsecondary education undermines the potential of educational attainment,” Scott notes.
The gender wage gap decreased from 2019 to 2021, with women making 72.3 cents on every dollar a man made in 2021, compared to 71.6 cents two years earlier.
Alberta is the province with the largest wage gap.
In Alberta, women make 63.7 cents for every dollar men make — an income gap of more than $21,500. The lowest wage gap is in P.E.I., where women make 77.8 cents for every dollar men make — a difference of $9,200.
There was a 23.1% decrease in the national poverty rate during 2020, as pandemic aid programs kicked in across Canada, which favoured men with a 24.1% reduction for males compared to a 22.5% reduction for females. In Alberta, however, the poverty rate remained roughly the same.
After pandemic aid programs wound down in 2021, poverty rates increased in each province, with the national poverty rate growing 1.2 percentage points to 8.5% for men and 1.4 percentage points to 11.4% for women.
The pandemic also had a significant influence on women’s safety. Police reports of domestic violence, sexual assault and criminal harassment of women increased across the country from 2019 to 2021.
A note of caution is warranted here. Just 19% of spousal violence 6% of sexual assaults are estimated to be reported to police.
While there was a reprieve in the overall rate of police-reported violent crime against women in the pandemic’s first year, this was produced by an 11.2% decrease in assaults by non-intimate partners.
Meanwhile, all forms of violence against women by current or former partners increased, with sexual assaults in this category increasing by 5.6%.
But 2021 saw an increase in all reported violence against women, with non-intimate partner violence increasing by 9.1% and intimate partner violence increasing by 2.3%.
Overall, there was an 8.7% increase in women reporting sexual assaults from 2019 to 2021, a 15.3% increase in reported criminal harassment and 3.8% increase in intimate partner violence.
With these statistics, it’s unsurprising that the pandemic disproportionately impacted women’s mental health.
Women were found to be more likely than men to express “extreme” concern about the pandemic’s impact on their health, finances and community solidarity, and gender diverse people were found even more likely to report declining mental health during the pandemic.
From 2020 to 2021, the number of women reporting excellent or very good mental health declined by 9.4 percentage points, compared with 6.7 points for men.
Of those reporting decreased mental health from 2019 to 2022, 62.5% were women.
Among teenagers, the number of girls reporting good mental health declined by 14.5 percentage points — more than double the decline among boys.
Read the full CCPA report here.