Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Put yourself in their shoes: Let's thank the women on the front line of the pandemic

COVID-19 is not an equal opportunity pandemic. As Memorial president Vianne Timmons writes in this guest column, women are often in harm's way because of their work.

Women are often in harm's way in this pandemic, says MUN president

Vianne Timmons took over as president of Memorial University this winter. (Memorial University )

Chances are the last time you bought your groceries, you were checked out by a woman.

Women are the majority of cleaners, cashiers and food-service workers. Low-paying jobs, but they are on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, just like many working directly in the health-care system.

According to Katherine Scott, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, we're not all in this together. This is not an equal opportunity pandemic.

A United Nations policy brief notes that women's roles put them on the front line of the COVID pandemic. Seventy per cent of health and social service workers are women — nurses, medical laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists, personal support workers. They are on the front line.

On Wednesday, an excellent article in the Telegram focused on women's issues during this pandemic.

These registered nurses work at the COVID-19 unit at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. (Registered Nurses' Union of Newfoundland and Labrador/Facebook)

A CBC story on April 30 included a photo of 17 women — staff at the COVID 19 unit at the Health Sciences Centre. It's a powerful image. At least one hadn't hugged her three-year-old son since April 1. For safety reasons, he's living with his grandparents.

As a mother of four, I can imagine how challenging that would be.

Think again about the supermarket cashier — and put yourself in her shoes.

As has been noted many times in recent weeks, this is not a typical recession. Men are not losing their jobs at the same rate as women. Women are concentrated in sectors and industries hardest hit by isolation measures. According to Statistics Canada, between the ages of 25-54, the rate of decline for jobs held by women was more than twice that of men.

Those women are home, sometimes taking care of children and doing a hundred other things women traditionally do, including tending to elderly relatives.

Some might be locked at home with an abusive partner.

We can learn from this

Across any sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls, simply by virtue of their gender, again from the UN policy brief.

Researchers are taking the opportunity to learn from this.

For example, Dr. Alyson Byrne, assistant professor in the faculty of business administration at Memorial, studies work-family dynamics.

She and two co-authors at Queen's University are proposing to study how COVID-19 is impacting couples who now have to work at home together, and examining whether there are certain triggers, such as breadwinning status, that make it more or less difficult for couples.

Many cashiers and workers in the service sector are women. (The Associated Press)

At Memorial University, women wear many shoes: campus enforcement and patrol officers and custodial workers; administrative staff, managers and directors; undergraduate and graduate students; professors and researchers.

They are all doing their own balancing act.

Are they heroes? It's not for me to say. The nurse who hadn't touched her son in more than a month says no.

But we can thank her and all the other women who put their shoes on every morning and go to work on the many front lines of this pandemic.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

Vianne Timmons


Vianne Timmons is president of Memorial University.

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