An SOS for moms everywhere - The Orca

An SOS for moms everywhere

Dene Moore

Dene Moore: Yesterday was Mothers' Day – time to take stock of just how hard the pandemic has been on moms.

On Sunday I went to my mother’s house, a Tupperware container of English tea goodies in one hand and a bouquet of tulips in the other. My mom prefers wildflowers, but the meadows up here are still waking from their winter slumber, so tulips had to do.

It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and since I work from home we’ve shared a cautious bubble throughout the pandemic, me visiting several times a week, running errands as needed and cooking dinners.

For most mothers, though, a card and grocery store flowers really aren’t going to cut it this year.

With hope running high that the end of the stricter public health measures is within sight, it’s time to take measure of the toll the pandemic year has had on mothers and working women.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation warned this week that nearly half of mothers they surveyed say they are reaching their breaking point.

Whether they have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, have chosen to leave in order to focus on home-schooling, child care of elder care, or are struggling to work from home while doing all of the above, the foundation (and several other organizations) are raising the alarm.

“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on mothers and family caregivers in Canada,” says Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the foundation in releasing the survey results.

“The statistics confirm that this gendered care work is extremely taxing, especially now. We need to pay attention and take systemic action to address how strained women and gender-diverse people have been.”

Twenty-eight per cent of the mothers surveyed in April said they were struggling to keep up with work demands and a quarter said they were afraid to take time off work because they fear losing their jobs.

Seventy per cent of mothers and 55 per cent of fathers said they were concerned about their family’s mental health.

Society has long relied on unpaid, often undervalued care work to support families, communities and the economy, Senior says.

“The pandemic is really stretching the limits,” she says.

A report from RBC Economics late last year, based on Statistics Canada data, found women’s participation in the Canadian labour force had reached its lowest level in three decades. From February to October, 20,600 Canadian women fell out of the labour force while nearly 68,000 men joined.

The number of women aged 20-24 and 35-39 were leaving the work force in higher numbers than other age groups.

And the hardest-hit industries were those in which women are overrepresented and are less conducive to working remotely. Retail, health care, K-12 education, child daycare, service industries such as grocery stores, to name a few – these are all sectors where women represent a high proportion of the work force and that have borne a higher burden during the past year.

“In a matter of weeks during the spring, COVID-19 rolled back the clock on three decades of advances in women’s labour-force participation, setting Canada’s economy up for a slower recovery than might otherwise be the case,” says the report.

“Despite notable rebounds in overall employment and GDP in recent months, the pandemic continues to cloud the future for many industries in which women had significant representation. What’s more, the pandemic has made the family responsibilities that women typically shoulder that much heavier.”

It’s a global problem. The charitable group Oxfam estimates women globally lost more than 64 million jobs last year, costing them at least $800 billion in lost income.

Women “are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs,” the group says.

On top of that, women and girls around the world put in billions of hours of unpaid care work every day, the report says.

So this year, not instead of a card or flowers but in addition, I hope you asked the mothers in your life how they’re doing.

Ask them what you can do to help.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.