International Women’s Day is a global day of recognition that celebrates the economic, cultural, social and political achievements of women and the work that still needs to be done.
That’s a lot to celebrate and consider in just one day, especially during a time in history when a global pandemic has left women carrying what has been referred to as the “shadow pandemic.”
The tremendous losses that women have disproportionately faced compared to their male counterparts this year is yet to be fully understood but it is being felt by women across the globe. “The magnitude of inequality is striking”, suggests this article by McKinsey, noting that their analysis tied to gender inequality during the pandemic suggests that the “gendered nature of work across industries explains one-fourth of the difference between job-loss rates for men and women. The lack of systemic progress to resolve other societal barriers for women explains the rest”.
When considering this information, I didn’t have far to look for examples as inside my own industry, mental healthcare, the gender disparity is striking. Traditionally the profession of social work and the practice of psychotherapy has been performed by women, often under the presumption, and the great privilege, of helping. Despite training as skilled professionals, there is still a gender gap in the way society views and respects professions typically held by women who offer help (I’m looking at you, teachers, nurses, caregivers, child care workers…).
When I look at my professional colleagues and network, I see women and strong allies who are growing tired of trying to help in a system full of barriers and are continually told to do more, give more, and ask for less.
I’m watching my women-identified colleagues experience burnout from navigating providing care for others while now carrying the burden of the shadow pandemic themselves. I’m watching them engage in the unpaid labour of raising their children, supporting their loved ones and giving beyond their means. I’m watching this while I’m pregnant with my first child and due to give birth in two weeks. As a soon-to-be mother, to a son, what can I do to scream out for the helpers, for the women who are at higher risk during this pandemic and who have historically faced and continue to face significant societal barriers. How will I cope with the shadow pandemic, too?
I also watch women who love what they do, who have so much to give and who wouldn’t wish to work in any other profession, through simply being recognized for the work that they are doing and offered seats at leadership tables would be presumed to be unattainable.
I write this as a white cis-middle class woman and the question that’s on my mind is “now what?” I want to use my privilege for good. What can I do to change the perception of women’s work as simply “helping.” Helping is what keeps our economy moving but helping is also what perpetuates a disproportionate amount of male spokespeople on the screens and male leaders at the table.
It’s time to reframe the narrative of who we help, starting with helping ourselves.
When we take care of ourselves, we take better care of our clients. When our industry can take care of us, and prioritize what women have to say, we can have a larger impact overall and bridge existing gaps. This is no small feat and I don’t pretend to have the answers. I simply know that I want to challenge you to think about them with me.
In the years before now, I used to spend today sharing the quote, “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them,” but today I stand here and tell you that we are already those women.
We are already strong. We’ve been strong. It’s not about being strong anymore, is it?
I see you showing up today and every day. I see you showing your authentic self and supporting countless others in doing the same. It’s time for those sharing this world with women to make more space at the table.
Give us your seat. Give us your microphone. Stand in our shadows for just a second, and give us the room we need to change this world for the better.