71 per cent of Canadian women feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked or ill because of increased unpaid care work caused by COVID-19: Oxfam survey

Ottawa Seventy-one per cent of women surveyed in Canada reported feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked, or ill because of having to shoulder even more unpaid care work as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, according to national poll results released by Oxfam Canada today.

The Canadian poll results were significantly higher in comparison to the overall average (43 per cent) that included four other countries – the US, UK, the Philippines and Kenya – surveyed by Oxfam.

While the polling also shows men have taken on more care work during the pandemic, the care workload still continues to fall disproportionately on women – particularly women from ethnic and racial minorities, those living in poverty and in communities without access to basic infrastructure and services. Oxfam is challenging men to do more ahead of Father’s Day, which is being celebrated on Sunday in the survey countries.

“COVID-19 has blown open the debate about the value of care work in our lives,” Dana Stefov, Oxfam Canada’s lead on Women’s Economic Justice said. “It has been so invisible, for so long, that it has taken a global pandemic of epic proportions to draw attention to the value of the caring and household work that women do, and the impact it has on their lives.”

A total of 6,385 women and men were surveyed several weeks into the pandemic, which has made millions sick and led to the closure of schools, nurseries, and support services. Three national polls were conducted in the US, UK, and Canada, together with two surveys in poor urban communities in the Philippines and informal settlements in Kenya.

The results showed: Over half of the women surveyed reported spending more hours on tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning, and caring for children and family members since the pandemic began. Over half of the men surveyed also said their unpaid care workload had increased but the polling revealed that men and women have very different views of how fairly care work is shared. Before the pandemic women were already doing 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day globally, three times more than men.

Key Canadian findings include: 

  • Women living in poverty and ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to suffer economically because of increased unpaid care responsibilities. For example, Indigenous (49%) and Black (55%) Canadians reported greater challenges due to increased house and care work caused by COVID-19 than their white peers (34%). Indigenous respondents were three times as likely as white respondents to say they have had to give up looking for paid work as a result of increased care responsibilities.
  • Women are significantly more likely to say they spend the bulk of their time during the day cooking and preparing meals, and cleaning/sweeping/disinfecting. While men are spending the largest share of their time in leisure pursuits, doing paid work, and on household management (i.e. paying bills, arranging clinic visits or childcare).
  • Paid work: essential care workers and the impact on their wellbeing – Three-quarters (74%) of Canadians who are essential care workers say there has been at least one impact on their wellbeing during the pandemic, with feelings of stress/anxiety/depression, feeling their wages are inadequate relative to the responsibilities at work and fear they are putting their family at risk of contracting COVID-19 among the top impacts.
  • Four-in-10 (42%) Canadians say that as a result of COVID-19 and social distancing, their household’s amount of domestic work and care work has increased, with 30 per cent saying it has increased by up to two hours per day.

Women are responsible for a disproportionate amount of care work in every country across the globe because of a lack of investment in public services, a labour market that ignores people’s care needs, and harmful stereotypes that consider care work to be women’s work and less skilled or valuable than paid work.

Women living in poverty and those from marginalized communities spend more time on care work because they have less access to labour saving devices, public services such as healthcare, or infrastructure such as water or electricity.

In Canada and the US, families and women from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds contend with socio-economic inequalities linked to structural racism, that can make it more difficult to access childcare, health and support services.

“The coronavirus has highlighted the tremendous importance of care work for healthy individuals, societies and economies. This work, if counted, would completely shift the scale of economic impact on GDP. This must not be forgotten as we build back better after the pandemic,” Stefov added.

“Women and men must work together to challenge the norms and stereotypes that prevent care work being shared equally. Its women who have been shouldering these economic contributions, and have been for generations. Canada can take action by supporting activities that recognize, reduce and redistribute care work from women to men and from household to state – this means investment in child care, essential care workers and shifting the gender norms that perpetuate inequality.”

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Notes to editor:
  • A total of 3558 women and 2827 men were polled across the five countries.
  • The full report can be found here.
  • A summary of polling data for all 5 countries is available here.
  • Information on the methodology used in each poll is available here.
  • In Canada, polling was conducted by Leger in a survey of 1523 Canadians from June 5-7. In Kenya, Oxfam Kenya undertook a gender rapid assessment in the informal settlements of Nairobi in May 2020. In the US, polling was conducted in partnership with Promundo, in the UK in partnership with YouGov, and in the Philippines as part of a 21 inter-agency initiative of International Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations, led byOxfam Philippines, UNFPA, CARE, PLAN International, UNHCR, UNICEF and UN Women and endorsed by the Commission on Human Rights and BARMM Ministry of Social Work & Development.
  • This research is part of Oxfam’s We Care initiative to make care work more visible and address it as a factor influencing gender equality. The Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) program has been working since 2013 to reignite progress on gender equality by addressing heavy and unequal unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW). By recognizing, reducing, and redistributing UCDW, WE-Care promotes a just and inclusive society where women and girls have more choice at every stage of their lives; more opportunities to take part in economic, social, and political activities; and where carer’s voices are heard in decision making about policies and budgets at all levels—supporting women and girls to reach their full potential. WE-Care currently funds projects in six countries across South-East Asia and Africa, in partnership with national women’s rights organizations, men’s groups, youth groups, civil society and the private sector. The program has been supported by Unilever and its laundry brand Surf, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and a number of other donors. WE-Care methodologies and policies have been used in Oxfam’s development and humanitarian programs in over 25 countries.
  • The #HowICare Campaign, co-led by Oxfam and Promundo, will run from June 18-25, to highlight stories about how men and women are caring for their families during this challenging time.
  • Oxfam International will be releasing a report “Care in the Time of Coronavirus” (embargoed until 00:01 HRS GMT June 25) with the global data trends and analysis as the week of action and #HowICare campaign week concludes.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Paula Baker
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047


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