International Women's Day: B.C. women, including small business owners, bear the economic brunt of COVID-19

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Like many B.C. small business owners, Eryn Beattie has faced enormous challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Luna Collective, her vintage and handmade goods shop in Victoria's Fernwood neighbourhood, supports more than 50 other women-owned Canadian businesses. But being forced to close for three months last spring was an "incredible challenge".

      "It was the right thing to do to try to slow the spread of the virus, but it was very scary to shut my doors and think about how I would survive the coming weeks," Beattie states on the Coast Capital Savings website. "I’m extremely grateful for how quickly I was able to pivot to online-only sales, and for the customers who got me through those months with their support."

      Luna Collective is one of several women-owned businesses highlighted on Coast Capital's Keep Her on the Map site. It's a new initiative intended to draw attention to the challenge that women business owners are facing during the pandemic.

      Last year, a study called "Unmasking Gender Inequity: Revealing the Socio-economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Women's Health" revealed how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women.

      Prepared by the B.C. Women's Health Foundation and Pacific Blue Cross, it found that 50 percent of B.C women were employed in industries and occupations that were the most impacted by measures imposed to fight the pandemic.

      "Concentration of employment in those sectors led to women in B.C. losing 60% more jobs in March 2020 than men, increasing the effective unemployment rate of women in the province to 26.5% in March 2020, and 28% in April," the report states.

      Marina Adshade, an assistant professor of teaching at UBC's Vancouver School of Economics, analyzed data and reviewed academic literature for the study.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Adshade said that most economic recessions tend to have a greater impact on men because many of the lost jobs are in manufacturing. But last year, retail, foodservices, dentistry, and personal care, including physiotherapy and massage therapy, were shut down for weeks or even longer.

      "So that really disproportionately affected women," Adshade said.

      She pointed out that there are structural inequities in the workforce because women have a greater tendency to select occupations that provide work-life balance. That enables them to juggle a job with caregiving responsibilities.

      According to Adshade, that can lead them to become teachers, health-care workers, or part-time retail employees because this provides a predictable schedule that enables them to take care of their families.

      When K-12 students were kept out of classrooms and elders needed to be looked after, women often had to do even more caregiving.

      "There's a lot of women whose choices were take care of their families or keep their jobs," Adshade noted. "A lot of women have lost their jobs and a lot of women have also had no choice but to leave their work in order to maintain some balance in trying to take care of their families."

      She also expressed deep concern about the impact of the pandemic on female business owners, including those offering services in personal care.

      Adshade applauded Coast Capital for focusing attention on the challenges faced by female business owners, who are sometimes less capitalized than their male counterparts.

      "They're so much more vulnerable in the current crisis," Adshade said. "We still want those businesses to be around in a year's time from now because we all benefit from them being there."

      Coast Capital Business Women's Network chair Larkin MacKenzie-Ast said in a news release that the credit union is trying to bring this issue to the forefront in advance of International Women's Day on Monday (March 8).

      "Whether it be sharing the resources on the Keep Her on the Map site, sharing information on women-owned businesses or using your purchasing power to support more women-owned businesses, we are asking people to actively and intentionally help bolster and support women in our communities," MacKenzie-Ast said. "Because when the women in our communities are healthy and thriving, we are all better for it."

      Feds listen to experts

      The Straight asked Adshade for her thoughts about the Canadian government's speedy response to the pandemic in comparison to the United States, which moved slowly under former president Donald Trump.

      In Canada, $2,000 monthly payments under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and a federal wage-subsidy program were in place within weeks of the World Health Organization declaring that COVID-19 was a pandemic.

      The U.S., on the other hand, still hasn't approved a $1.9-trillion stimulus plan advanced by the House of Representatives.

      "One of the things we realized quite early on in this whole process is that countries that were led by women were doing a lot better than countries that were led by men," Adshade said. "This is not just anecdotal; research has been done to prove that this is true."

      While Canada's prime minister and every premier but the Northwest Territories' Caroline Cochrane are men, there are many women in high-ranking positions. Some are working as provincial health officers while others are serving as the federal finance minister, health minister, and procurement minister.

      "The fact that we have so many women in these leadership roles, I think, has really, really helped us as a country," Adshade said. "From that perspective we’re lucky... I think the government has done a good job."

      Adshade also expressed the belief that the federal government is more willing to seek the advice of academic researchers than many governments across the United States.

      "I don't know that Canadians really appreciate that our leaders are very, very good at listening to the experts," she added. "So I think the policy response has been really, really strong from that perspective."