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Are women in the workplace the latest Covid-19 casualty?

I listened to an extremely horrifying and enraging story on the CBC radio program, The Current (https://tinyurl.com/ycujk8dq).

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, a woman who worked in an office could not find child care for her two children. She contacted her employer and offered to work from home. The employer told her not to worry and to just take care of her children. After hearing nothing back, she called and was told that they could not wait for her to return and had replaced her. Her employer never bothered to call. Now, she is without a job and has just bought a house.

Even after the gains of the feminist movement, women continue to experience prejudice and discrimination in the work place and are still considered to be the primary care giver for children. In the 1950s, some companies would not hire married women and expected single women who got married to leave the company because it was assumed that they would soon start a family and take on the responsibility of raising children while the men worked.

The action of the employer above has the potential to stigmatize all women in the work force. It is possible that some companies will use the pandemic as an excuse to exclude women and refuse to bring them back after the pandemic is over because of a fear that women will be pulled from work duties by family obligations. Such discrimination can be subtle, yet devastating.

As a man who raised a son as a single parent, I know firsthand that this assumption is unfounded. Men and women are both nurturing, yet we live in a society where gender roles are set in many minds that pressure men to work and women to care for the home and children. My son once fell ill during the work week and I called in sick. My employer told me to get a sitter and come to work because I was a man. The absurdity of finding any sitter who would care for a sick child is bad enough. The lack of humanity in recognizing that a sick child wants a parent, not a sitter, is worse. Women encounter this attitude constantly.

Even though two income households have become a necessity in our current economic reality for many just to make ends meet, women still suffer unequal treatment, a lack of opportunity for advancement and make $85 for every $100 a man earns for doing the exact same job, according to figures from the United States Census Bureau, even though women have proven, time and again, that they are capable of performing the same duties as men, including in strenuous professions such as firefighting, for which some men once argued, falsely, that women did not have the required strength. The gap is even greater for women of color.

Covid-19 is exposing many broken aspects of our society and economy, from hellish conditions in long term care homes that have existed for decades to homeless people incapable of escaping the virus and for people in the lower socioeconomic strata who have been affected in disproportionate numbers. Now, a roll back of the gains for women in employment could become the latest casualty.

Governments need to enact legislation immediately that protects workers affected by unforeseen disasters like pandemics so that they will have jobs to return to when the crisis is over. This is becoming its own crisis, on top of Covid-19. The jobs of both men and women are threatened, and women may experience the greatest impact.

David A. Wimsett was the head of a computer consulting firm for several decade and managed many women and men over the years. He is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority.