'It was hell': Women's views of pandemic preserved in report cite isolation, economic hit

A report from the P.E.I. Council on the Status of Women aims to preserve the views of women on the COVID-19 pandemic for history was released Friday.

‘Things can’t go back to the way they were’

The women interviewed for the report felt the responsibility for caregiving during the pandemic fell heavily on women. (P.E.I. Council on the Status of Women)

A report from the P.E.I. Council on the Status of Women released Friday aims to preserve the views of women on the COVID-19 pandemic.

"So often, the voices of women and marginalized groups are hard to hear in history. It is hard to find us in the archives," said council chair Debbie Langston in a news release.

The report, Gender and COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island, features brief interviews with each of the nine members of the council, a summary of themes from a roundtable with council members, and interviews with nine past council chairs.

It's been pretty devastating in my community of moms, to be isolated and not able to rely on one another.— Emily Rutledge

Council executive director Jane Ledwell said there were some common themes that came up in the interviews.

"It felt like those old defaults, like, who takes care of emotional work, who takes care of the laundry, who takes care of the cleaning, that had become more balanced over time, all of the sudden when we were all stuck in our homes, their perception was that it came back to women," said Ledwell.

And this was a particularly heavy burden, with all the extra cleaning that was advised during the early months of the pandemic, and the home-based learning that became necessary when schools closed.

I am losing my confidence in my ability to contribute. Physically, I am also not good: medical and dental appointments have been postponed.— Gina Younker

For some, there were concerns about the lack of focus on people's differing physical abilities. For others, it was the poor state of rural internet infrastructure.

"There was just a really strong, and I'd say overwhelming, consensus that things can't go back to the way they were," Ledwell said. "Now that we see those inequalities, now that we see how we're treating each other when we have differences, we can't go back to the way it was before."

The women also talked more specifically about the things they missed: places to gather socially, libraries and museums.

The council released the report to mark Women's History Month in Canada, which is October.

The whole situation is so hard to explain to my special-needs daughter. She cannot understand the restrictions. She feels hurt and isolated.— Chris MacPhail

Gina Younker is an anti-poverty advocate who is on the council. She said it was important to share her story, which outlined her loneliness and skyrocketing anxiety, for posterity and so others feeling the same way would know they are not alone.

"You need to read it and you need to see the perspectives — there's so many different perspectives and so many stories ... reach out, help people and be kind," Younker said. 

'I needed more help'

Emily Rutledge is also a member of the current advisory council who shared her pandemic experience, which she said was isolating. 

'It demonstrated we can make policy change quickly, like overnight,' said single mother Emily Rutledge of government's quick response to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"As a single mom working full-time, no family here, I felt I was really put in a lot of impossible situations," she said. She wasn't able to work with her four-year-old home from daycare, she said, and the little work she could do was difficult.

"We're not set up to be full-time caregiving and full-time working — that was the main thing," she said. She said the first few weeks were OK as she managed to "power through" but then the strain accumulated over the months of the lockdown. 

My three businesses were suddenly on hold, and when there was no money coming in the door, I had to go on CERB.— Cathy Rose

She said she was pleased other women highlighted their struggles with caregiving in the report. 

"It also made me kind of really think about what the government is willing to do and act quickly on — like to bring out CERB so quickly, it demonstrated we can make policy change quickly, like overnight." 

She said she would have liked to see supports other than economic, however, and the P.E.I. women's report gives voice to those who bore the brunt of the pandemic and were ignored. 

"I think it really exposed who is carrying the weight in our society, and are we taking care of them?" Rutledge said. 

'It was hell'

"It was hell, it was very isolating," said Chris MacPhail, the advisory council's treasurer, of the pandemic. One of her children has Down syndrome and ADHD and has compromised immunity.

'I would literally have panic attacks,' during the pandemic from worrying about her family, says Chris MacPhail. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"I would literally have panic attacks, thinking anywheres I went or anything I'd done would affect my daughter." MacPhail worried if her daugther got COVID-19, that she wouldn't understand what was happening. "It was scary for me," she said.

She also was no longer able to share custody of her daughter with her daughter's father. Her daughter is what MacPhail describes as "a runner" who will leave the house and not come back, so she requires vigilant caregiving night and day, which was overwhelming. 

She hopes in reading the report people will think about ways they can better help one another in the future. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning and Brittany Spencer


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?