#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report

With Raquel Fletcher in Quebec City

Quebec women have borne the brunt of pandemic’s consequences

Women asking for more government support to deal with its aftereffects

Two years ago this month, Premier François Legault declared a public health emergency, leading the province to close schools and non-essential businesses, ban visits to hospitals and long-term care homes and tell people to stay at home. It was the first of multiple circuit breaker shutdowns, which took an emotional toll on almost everyone, especially on women.

Newsfirst Multimedia correspondent in Quebec City Raquel Fletcher.

As March 8 is International Women’s Day, this week’s column is dedicated to bringing attention to how Quebec women, especially mothers, have borne the brunt of the consequences of both a global health crisis and public health measures put in place to curb contagion.

Women were twice as likely as men to lose their jobs as they tend to work in the tourism, food and culture sectors that were much more affected by health measures. They were also more likely to reduce their hours or quit work altogether to ensure childcare for kids learning from home or because of shortages of daycare spaces.

“For the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of fear,” said Johanne Pelletier, who works at the Centre des femmes de la Basse-Ville, a women’s centre in Quebec City. Since the start of the first wave, she has been accompanying women she describes as being “in distress.” Women forced to balance working from home with children also at home doing online learning, women thrown into poverty no longer able to make ends meet with the rising cost of food and women cut off from their social networks have all come to the centre for help.

“These women, when they come here, they cry a lot. They feel alone. The stress is sometimes so great they have the impression things will never get better,” Pelletier explained, adding many of her clients show signs of serious depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Conjugal violence on the rise

And then there are women for whom stay-at-home orders and curfews have meant months of isolation with a controlling or abusive partner. Conjugal violence and other forms of violence against women is on the rise. Last year Quebec recorded the highest number of murders in a decade: 26 women were killed, most of them by current or former partners.

Calls have escalated for the government to do something to thwart this frightening trend. Last month, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced Quebec would become the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement electronic monitoring bracelets for past offenders. Using geolocation technology, police officers are alerted if an offender comes within the bounds of an established perimeter of his victim.

Rare moment of collaboration from MNAs

The initiative is just one put forward by a transpartisan committee, which, thanks to the combined efforts of female MNAs from all four parties, made 190 recommendations to combat violence against women. Last November, the National Assembly also adopted Bill 92 to create specialized courts for victims of sexual assault.

In today’s political climate, elected officials seem to spend most of their time criticizing their rivals. However, in this case, they’ve the collaborated on the report and on implementing its recommendations. It marks one of the rare moments Quebecers have seen MNAs from all the parties seated side by side at press conferences.

Maintaining this common front is also one motivation for the province’s committing more dollars to the cause. Last year the CAQ government was taken to task for setting aside a measly $22.5 million over five years to fight domestic violence. Women’s shelters made it loud and clear that the sum was simply not enough. Weeks later, Guilbault announced the government would increase its investment ten-fold, by $223 million.

Community groups say more is needed in this year’s budget, which will be tabled on March 22.

“If we had one more social worker, if we had more financial resources, we could do more,” Pelletier said. “We always try to respond to all the needs, but sometimes we just burn out.”

The aftereffects of the pandemic are still being felt. Women are asking for more support – to take care of themselves and to continue taking care of others.