Wednesday, April 7 is Equal Pay Day 2021 in Canada. It’s yet another event we’ll be marking from a distance due to the coronavirus pandemic, but just because we can’t march together doesn’t mean our voices are any quieter about the gender pay gap (which, at the rate things are going, won't closed in Canada for another 164 years, smh).
If anything, COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that advocating for women’s economic equality is more important now than ever. Four out of five healthcare workers identify as women, not to mention women are on the frontlines of other industries affected by this global health crisis, such as retail and childcare. "Without women’s work, our economy doesn’t work, and it’s never been more clear than now," says Fay Faraday, co-chair for the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition.
Here's what you need to know about Equal Pay Day and how you can help close the gender pay gap.
What is Equal Pay Day Canada?
Equal Pay Day is the average of how many extra days into the new year that women would have to work in order to earn as much as men did in the previous year. So, April 7 highlights how Canadian women have worked over three months (and seven days) into the year to earn what men did in 12 months. “When you add that up over the course of a working career, that's many, many extra years of work to get to the same place,” says Farady. In fact, she points out, it’s the equivalent of working 13 years in the labour force with no pay.
On average, full-time working women make about $0.75 cents for every dollar that men make (scarily, this is a bigger gap than last year), and that gap is even wider for women belonging to marginalized groups.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), Indigenous women make $0.65 for every dollar, women living with a disability earn $0.54, racialized women make $0.67, and women who are new to Canada make $0.71 compared to men who are also new to Canada. Notably, notes Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement for CFW, "[these figures] don’t reflect all the different ways women could be marginalized in the workforce," she says. "Women are more likely to be underemployed, doing unpaid work for a lot of what they do or segregated into labour that’s not paid as well.
How has the pandemic affected women and work?
In a big way. COVID has had an outsized impact on women across the board — from causing strain on our mental health to putting women at greater risk physically (of both contracting the virus and greater risk of domestic abuse). And it has undoubtedly affected job security and finances. In April 2020, women’s participation in the labour force dropped from just over 61% to 55% for the first time since the 1980s. And per a report from RBC, 1.5 million Canadian women lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. “The loss of jobs was so great that the rate of women's participation in the paid labour force has declined to levels that existed in the 1980s,” Faraday says. “We've lost two full generations of economic gain in the workplace in the space of a year.”
And, over a year into the pandemic, women — who often account for a large number of impacted roles — aren’t necessarily starting to get back on their feet, while men have gotten back much closer to their pre-pandemic rate of work. Which means a worsening pay gap. “[We could be celebrating equal pay day next year] in June or July. The pandemic has had a massive impact, because these women are now earning zero,” she says.
How can I get involved?
The Ontario Equal Pay Coalition, which hosts a rally every year, is taking its message online for the second year in a row. In addition to encouraging people across Canada to wear red on April 7 (to signify that women are “in the red,” i.e.: spending and owing more money than earned), the Ontario Equal Pay Day coalition is asking Canadians to take part in its social media campaign to spread awareness of this gap using the hashtags #DemandBetter and #AlwaysEssential to "mobilize people to hold all of their governments to account as we approach a recovery,” Faraday says.
That means that any recovery has to consider gender. Looking at the recently released Ontario budget, Faraday points to the emphasis on male-dominated industries, like rebuilding physical infrastructure instead of focusing on social infrastructure — like care work — which is typically dominated by women. “Unless an economic recovery targets that and builds strong social infrastructure, then women are going to be even further behind.” And there are pretty dire consequences. “If we don't get this right, it's going to take women lifetimes to get back to where we were in 2020.”
If you wish to address the gendered impact of COVID-19, you can donate to the Canadian Women’s Foundation Tireless Together Fund, which supports cross-Canada programs to reduce gendered poverty and end gender-based violence.
This post was originally published on April 3, 2020. It has been updated with new information.