COVID-19 must be understood through the lens of inequality. The pandemic and its economic fallout have made lines of privilege and disadvantage clearer: while some are in a social position to be financially stable and stay healthy, others are in much more high-risk, vulnerable situations, and have had to endure devastating consequences because of the pandemic.

Below, we’ve curated a collection of our best research and insights that shed light on the impact of COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, was discovered in late 2019 and has since become a global pandemic, impacting public health and economies around the world. In order to prevent spread of the disease and overtaxing health systems, many countries have enacted mandatory physical distancing measures, closing non-essential businesses and borders. Although everyone has been affected, some groups face increased risks to their physical and mental health, and / or their economic standing. For example, people in precarious and unprotected work, such as those in retail and hospitality industries, may have completely lost their income, or may have had to continue working as normal despite being exposed to the virus.

Understanding COVID-19 through the lens of inequality is vital: plans for recovery being made by policymakers, companies, and civil society should take an equity lens to make sure those worst affected by the pandemic and its economic fallout have their needs and concerns addressed. Further, paying attention to inequalities will help countries and companies build more resilience for coping with future crises.

The best policy responses to COVID-19 are up for debate. Since the pandemic began, a number of key inequality issues have been brought to the forefront of policy discussions, such as gender inequality in the burden for care, and racialized and gendered occupational segregation, among others. Many are calling for more equitable support systems moving forward, such as through universal or targeted basic income policies.

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Close Up of Man wearing a face mask with a women in background wearing facemask

Gender inequality and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has gendered effects. Women, especially women of colour, Indigenous women, and low-income women, are particularly susceptible to contracting the disease, as well as to economic instability and curtailed access to services and resources. Trans and gender diverse peoples also face heightened risks due to widespread discrimination and stigma. However, there is some evidence that men are more likely than women to be seriously ill and die from COVID-19 in part due to gendered norms such as higher rates of smoking amongst men. Below is a list of gendered impacts. More information can be found in the linked primer.

  1. Women are more likely than men to be frontline workers in essential services.
  2. Women are more likely than men to do high-contact, economically insecure, and unprotected work.
  3. Women’s domestic and caregiving burden will increase, though gendered norms around care may shift.
  4. Men face a higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.
  5. Vulnerability to domestic abuse increases.
  6. Access to sexual and reproductive healthcare is curtailed.
  7. Indigenous, racialized, low-income, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable groups are worse affected.
Read our COVID Primer
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A genderqueer person sitting in a hospital gown

Policy brief: Towards a more equitable gig economy

  • This policy brief details how the gig economy perpetuates inequity. During the pandemic, many gig economy workers are continuing to do work that puts them at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 (food service delivery, rideshare drivers, etc.). Further, gig workers’ ability to earn may have declined due to physical distancing measures, increasing their financial insecurity.

Policy brief: Women, investing and retirement

  • This policy brief discusses why senior women are more economically vulnerable than senior men, including important policy implications. The economic recession will increase this vulnerability, and measures for protection are necessary.

Research overview: Harassment and violence in the era of #MeToo

  • Staying home is not safe for everyone. Recent data shows 1 in 10 women in Canada is very or extremely concerned about violence in the home due to distancing during the pandemic. This research overview contains information and data on gendered harassment and violence. A more detailed analysis specific to domestic violence and COVID-19 can be found here.

Research overview: Working beyond the gender binary

  • This research overview explains how trans and non-binary people face employment instability, which will only worsen during a recession. Trans people also face higher rates of intimate partner violence compared to cisgender people, which could be exacerbated during physical distancing periods.

Events: Indigenous Women and the Economy: Successes and challenges

  • This event focused on how Indigenous women’s contributions to the economy are often devalued. Indigenous peoples will be worse impacted by the pandemic than the general population, both in terms of health and economically. A more detailed analysis specific to COVID-19 can be found here.

Research brief: How black job seekers are disadvantaged in network-based job searches

  • People of colour have a higher likelihood of being in precarious or insecure work. Considering that many people of colour have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, the hiring discrimination against black job seekers described in this brief will be even more pertinent after the pandemic.
Father holding toddler reading a book

Policy brief: Remote work and gender inequality throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Many workplaces have stigmatized remote work in the past, exacerbating gender inequality. During the pandemic, remote work has become the norm. This policy brief gives an overview of the benefits of, and barriers to, remote work, and suggests how workplaces can continue to support it after the pandemic is over.

Research overview: Care responsibilities and work-life balance

  • This research overview presents data on how Canadian households manage care work and labour market participation, and discusses sources of work-family conflict.

Research brief: Masculine norms keep us from gender equality

  • Masculine norms play an important role in thwarting gender equality in care work, as shown in this study. It has been suggested that women’s care burden is increasing during this pandemic, and this would not necessarily be the case if it was more of a social and cultural norm for men to do care work.

Research brief: The impact of a family’s income level on the use of parental leave benefits

  • This study found that low-income families are less likely to take full advantage of parental leave benefits than middle and high-income families. Policies affect families of different incomes differently, which should be considered when addressing childcare during and after the pandemic.

Research brief: Work-life balance as a household negotiation

  • This study argues that women’s ability to work in the formal labour market is a family project, involving negotiation of domestic work with other household members. During the pandemic, families are even more pressed to juggle their work in the labour market with childcare. Policymaking on care work, post-pandemic, needs to use this lens of household negotiation to better address gender inequality in work and care.

Events: Gemma Hartley on “Fed Up: Emotional Labour, Women, and the Way Forward”

  • Since they tend to be primary caregivers, women often take on cognitive and emotional labour for their households, particularly during times of crisis. This book event crystallized insights on these often-invisible types of labour and what to do about it.
Interior of empty cafe

Policy brief: Increasing supplier diversity in Canada

  • Continuing to develop public and private supplier diversity programs would help drive business to small firms with diverse owners that may have been badly affected the pandemic.

Policy brief: Diversity and inclusion in small and medium enterprises (SMEs)

  • This policy brief gives information on SMEs in general, and provides suggestions for improving their diversity and inclusion practices. As diversity and inclusion-related initiatives for SMEs will likely be deprioritized during a recession, these suggestions become all the more important.
stack of coins

News: Targeted Basic Income: An Equitable Policy Response to COVID-19

  • This article, co-authored by GATE Faculty Research Fellow Dionne Poehler, argues for targeted basic income as an equitable policy response.

Research overview: Gender budgeting: A tool for achieving equality

  • This overview provides information on gender budgeting, which is a process for incorporating gender-based insights into policy design. As policies are being developed to respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID, policymakers should be attentive to the gendered impacts of their choices.

Research overview: Intersectionality and the implications for workplace gender equity

  • The pandemic has affected people from different groups very differently. Any pandemic-related action or policy must take intersectionality into account. For example, evidence suggests that women and people of colour are being more impacted by layoffs, thus draining organizations of diversity. Companies should factor in an intersectional gender lens in their choices about layoffs.
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