Why the pandemic has been particularly hard on women working front-line jobs

Women who work in front-line jobs in the fight against COVID-19 have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to a McGill University researcher.

“Young women in the medical field who might have young families, they're exposed to the virus to a much great extent in the hospitals,” said Dr. Shaheen Shariff. “Many of the front-line workers are from marginalized socio-economic groups, where they're living in very crowded areas. They can't get away from people, they can't isolate. Many of them have to take public transport.”

Sharif is on a McGill research team that is sharing their research the university's IMPACTS website. What they have found is that the stress on women “is palpable.”

“I've got two young women doctors in my family... Every day they're going to the hospital and there's fear,” she said. “Now, many of them have been vaccinated, but it doesn't seem to take away the fear. (There's) the pain and guilt of watching people get ill and die. There's the frustration, the helplessness of being a front-line worker and committed to healthcare and saving lives.”

Along with positions in healthcare, women also make up a large portion of the province's teaching population. Heidi Yetman, who servces on the advisory committee for the Canadian Teachers' Federation's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women said the pandemic has been “particularly difficult for women. Women are the ones doing most of the caring for children in their own homes.”

“You can imagine the stress this is having on teachers in the classroom when 75 per cent of teachers are women. We have women that are in service to others, that's what we do. We're caregivers and they are holding society in their hands right now with the pandemic. That's a huge burden.”

Yetman said the stress is compounded by a feeling that teachers' concerns have not been heard.

“They feel abandoned by the government. They're out there every day, doing their jobs as best as they can. But they're also suffering, because they have so many other things on their plate.”

For real change to happen, Yetman said more women need to be in decision-making roles.

“When women are sitting at the table to create policy, they think about equity. They think about women, they think about children. So it's good for everyone to have women sitting at the table, making policy.”

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