Efforts to rebuild Canada’s economy that do not also address systemic racism will continue to leave people behind 

Carmina Ravanera 

author headshotThe writer and feminist Audre Lorde said in 1982 that “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.” Today, this idea must be central to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery efforts as we look toward building our economy back better.  

Women in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the economic fallout of COVID-19, particularly women who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC). One solution to mitigate this gender inequality is a national affordable childcare system, which experts agree will help boost women’s labour force participation. But the outsized impacts of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities underscore that any recovery policy, including a childcare program, must simultaneously address systemic racism.  

The she-cession and the need for affordable child care  

Many women have faced an increased burden of care work during the pandemicleading some to cut their paid work hours or drop out of the workforce. On top of this, women have experienced disproportionate job loss because women-majority sectors, such as retail and hospitality, have been the most affected by COVID-19As a result, women’s participation in the Canadian labour force reached its lowest level in over three decades this summer (RBC Economics, 2020). BIPOC, especially BIPOC women, are now facing higher rates of unemployment and financial insecurity than those who are white (Statistics Canada, 2020). Such circumstances have led many to deem this recession a “she-cession. 

Experts agree that we need an affordable, safe and high-quality childcare system to ensure an effective and equitable economic recovery (Bezanson et al, 2020; Yalnizyan, 2020). Currently, child care is prohibitively expensive across most provinces and territories: the median cost of preschool-aged child care per month is around $1,000 or more in cities such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver (Macdonald and Friendly, 2020). Childcare advocates have recommended that the government contribute at least 1% of the country’s GDP (about $17 billion) each year to create an early learning and childcare system with more affordability and higher capacity – an OECD benchmark that other countries have already surpassed (Friendly, 2015).    

Some may balk at this 1% benchmark, but there are crucial social and economic benefits to increased investment in this social infrastructure, not least of which is that affordable and accessible child care is proven to boost women’s participation in the labour force. Mothers still shoulder the majority of care work in Canada: they spent an average of 68 hours per week on child care prior to the pandemic; during the pandemic, this number rose to 95. Fathers’ childcare hours only increased from 33 to 46 (Johnston et al2020). Further, those who are Black and Indigenous are more likely than those who are white to have had to give up looking for paid work in order to carry out their increased unpaid work (Oxfam Canada, 2020).

Steps career professionals can take to advocate for this issue: 

  • Commit to learning more about how childcare responsibilities and systemic racism pose significant and intersecting barriers for the careers of your employees, clients or others you work with, especially if they are women and / or BIPOC.  
  • Keep apprised of the government’s plans for a Canada-wide childcare plan. Have conversations about why it’s important within your networks and in your workplace.  
  • Partner with or support organizations working toward racial equity, affordable child care and / or equitable recovery from the pandemic.  
  • Advocate for policies on anti-racism and flexibility for caregivers within your workplace.  

Affordable care would remove some of this care burden from women, especially BIPOC women, and facilitate their return to paid work. This translates to better economic outcomes across societyIt is estimated that each additional percentage point of labour force participation for women aged 25-54 would add $1.85 billion to Canada’s GDP (Bezanson et al, 2020).  

More from Careering and CareerWise

Career development as a social justice imperative

How to identify decent work employers during the hiring process

Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer isn’t enough to make workplaces safer for racialized employees

An increased investment in the care sector would also create much-needed jobsOne study from the United Kingdom showed that investing 1% of a country’s GDP in child care would create almost three times more jobs than an equivalent investment in construction (De Henau and Himmelweit, 2020). Care jobs are “green” jobs – the care sector does not contribute heavily to carbon emissions or environmental damage, but to a healthy population with educated children (Cohen and Macgregor, 2020).  

More investment in child care could further ensure that care workers are better paid and protected, which would draw more people into the sector and result in higherquality care. These workers, many of whom are women and / or BIPOC, make an average of between $25,000 and $37,000 a year, despite the essential services they provide (Child Care Now, 2018).  

Young mother sitting at the table at home. She is holding her baby son whilst using a laptop. Her other son is sitting with his back to the camera, colouring in at the table.
Affordable care would remove some of the care burden from women, especially BIPOC women, and facilitate their return to paid work. (iStock)
What does systemic racism have to do with affordable child care 

Enduring systemic racism in Canada means that BIPOC need targeted recovery policies. BIPOC make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases: In Toronto, they comprise 83% of cases despite representing about half of the population (City of Toronto, 2020). Part of the reason for this, and for why BIPOC are facing relatively high unemployment rates and financial insecurity now, is because they are more likely to hold low-income, unprotected jobs that lead to vulnerability, such as cleaning and personal support work. They also experience limited access to opportunities and services that many mistakenly believe are equally available to everyone, from health care to housing 

Early learning and child care are no exceptions hereIndigenous children face numerous barriers to accessing quality early learning programs. There is a lack of funding and infrastructure for Indigenous child care, particularly in remote communities, as well as a lack of cultural relevancy within these services (Preston, 2008). Black parents have reported that their children experience racial profiling and other discrimination in early learning and throughout their schooling (Maynard, 2017). Black and Indigenous students in the school system are disproportionately expelled or suspended compared to other students (James and Turner2017).  

A national affordable childcare system will boost our economy and contribute to gender equality. But it will not be fully effective if BIPOC parents are not able to access this service because it does not meet the needs of those in underserved areas. It will not be fully effective if BIPOC children continue to experience discrimination within it. And it will not be fully effective if new jobs are created, but employment discrimination keeps BIPOC women at the bottom of the ranks of the sector. The implementation of anti-racist training and policies across the system, as well as ensuring targeted services and funding for BIPOC communities, are some ways to address these problems within a new national childcare program.   

Policy solutions to the gender inequality that has arisen from the pandemic require commitment and action to ensure that all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination, are tackled head-on. Without this lens, we risk implementing solutions that continue to leave people behind.  

Carmina Ravanera is a Research Associate at the Institute for Gender and the Economy. She is also the co-author of A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the Economy Work for Everyone.  


Bezanson, K., Bevan, A. and Lysack, M. (2020). National childcare system is crucial for recovery and rebuilding. First Policy Response. policyresponse.ca/national-childcare-system-is-crucial-for-recovery-and-rebuilding/ 

Binesi, B. (2018). Fast Facts: Indigenous language revitalization and child care. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/fast-facts-indigenous-language-revitalization-and-child-care 

Child Care Now (2018). Fighting for a Living (Wage). timeforchildcare.ca/2018/09/10/fighting-for-a-living-wage/ 

City of Toronto (2020). COVID-19: Status of Cases in Toronto. toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-latest-city-of-toronto-news/covid-19-status-of-cases-in-toronto/ 

Cohen, M. and Macgregor, S. (2020). Towards a Feminist Green New Deal for the UK. Women’s Budget Group. wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Feminist-Green-New-Deal.pdf 

De Henau, J. and Himmelweit, S. (2020). A Care-Led Recovery from Coronavirus. Women’s Budget Group. https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Care-led-recovery-final.pdf 

Friendly, M. (2015). Taking Canada’s Child Care Pulse: The state of ECEC in 2015. policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2015/09/OS120_Summer2015_Canadas_child_care_pulse.pdf 

James, C. and Turner, T. (2017). Towards Race Equity in Education: The Schooling of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area. York University. edu.yorku.ca/files/2017/04/Towards-Race-Equity-in-Education-April-2017.pdf 

Johnston, R.M., Mohammed, A. and van der Linden, C. (2020). Evidence of Exacerbated Gender Inequality in Child Care Obligations in Canada and Australia During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Politics & Gender. cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/4E849E33B2F20D7C44A08B9FEA33CC2B/S1743923X20000574a.pdf/evidence_of_exacerbated_gender_inequality_in_child_care_obligations_in_canada_and_australia_during_the_covid19_pandemic.pdf 

Macdonald, D. and Friendly, M. (2020). In Progress: Child care fees in Canada 2019. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/progress 

Maynard, R. (2017). Canadian Education Is Steeped in Anti-Black Racism. The Walrus. thewalrus.ca/canadian-education-is-steeped-in-anti-black-racism/ 

Oxfam Canada (2020). 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. oxfam.ca/news/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/ 

Preston, J.P. (2008). Enhancing Aboriginal Child Wellness: The Potential of Early Learning Programs. First Nations Perspectives 1,1 (2008): 98-120. 

RBC Economics (2020). Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains. thoughtleadership.rbc.com/pandemic-threatens-decades-of-womens-labour-force-gains/ 

Statistics Canada (2020). Labour Force Survey, August 2020. www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200904/dq200904a-eng.htm 

Yalnizyan, A. (2020). Recovery depends on childcare strategy to get women back to work. First Policy Response. policyresponse.ca/recovery-depends-on-childcare-strategy-to-get-women-back-to-work/