With the vast majority of healthcare and social workers identifying as women, the vanguard of the COVID-19 response was distinctly gendered. In Conscripted to Care Julia Smith introduces us to the women who faced the worst effects of the pandemic and the inequities it exposed. Through clear prose and fascinating critical analysis, she documents their largely unseen contributions and sacrifices, both professional and domestic.
Drawing on interviews and focus groups with nearly two hundred women from a range of backgrounds and occupations, Smith reveals how structural inequality put women on the frontlines of the pandemic response, yet with inadequate resources and little voice in decision-making. Women shouldered not only the triple burden of paid work, unpaid care, and mental load, but also increased emotional labour. While some women were categorized as “essential,” others remained in the shadows. All faced unsustainable workloads, moral distress, and burnout while continuing to demand better services for those in their care.
An analysis of Canada’s COVID-19 response from the perspective of those who staffed it, Conscripted to Care presents crucial lessons for those interested in public health and how it relates to gender and economic equality, as well as public policy.
About the author
Julia Smith is an assistant professor in the Labour Studies Program at the University of Manitoba. She studies the political economy of labour relations in Canada and the history and politics of women’s labour activism.
“With a thoughtful and intersectional application of feminist political economic theory, Conscripted to Care identifies multiple structures that shifted the responsibility for care onto the women who worked during the COVID-19 response, and informs more equitable pandemic response, recovery, and preparedness. This timely and meaningful analysis of the crisis leaves no excuse for ignoring the unequal effects of the pandemic.” Julia Brassolotto, University of Lethbridge