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For those who research gender and diversity it became clear soon after the Covid-19 pandemic began that women, girls, and gender-diverse people would be disproportionately impacted.

A 2020 United Nations policy brief on the topic sums up what many researchers were hypothesizing or excepting at the time. “Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.”

The same year, the Canadian Women’s Foundation observed four gendered impacts of the isolation restrictions. The foundation reported that women experienced a higher risk of gender-based violence, increased economic stress, a greater burden of household work and caregiving, and reduced access to support services.

At the height of the pandemic, leading organizations feared that the future of gender equality was in peril. “With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the UN’s brief, “even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.”

Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner and Karen Jensen, Federal Pay Equity Commissioner, both of the Canadian Human Rights Commission echoed the UN’s concern the same year in a joint statement. “These disproportionate impacts could have long-term and far-reaching consequences,” they stated.

A couple of years later as women emerged from the isolation of Covid-19 restrictions, new reports and statistics confirmed what many had feared for women.

A 2022 report from the Pan American Health Organization stated that the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women and contributed to increased gender inequality in health and threatened women’s development and well-being.

“Compared to men, they experienced significantly worse impacts in loss of paid employment…Women in postsecondary education face a more challenging transition to the workforce because of the pandemic-related recession,” states a November 2022 publication by Royal Society of Canada, Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women in Canada. “Women and adolescent girls have reported more mental distress during the pandemic, and we see gendered impacts in the health system, while present before the pandemic were exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic, including unmet health needs and hospital admissions for serious mental health and eating disorders.”

It is with this backdrop that a group of six women living in the Third got together to discuss the local impact of Covid-19. As the restrictions were easing, Congregation of Notre Dame Sisters Agnus Campbell; Simone Abbass; and Ilene Roach and associates Laurette Andrews; Dianne MacAskill; and Winnie Odo came up with the idea to regularly gather women together.

Women had just gone through an extended period of being at home, many with limited social connections. The group of six knew many felt isolated and would benefit from an opportunity to build relationships and communities with other women.

They wanted to create a place for women “to be together to just talk and share as women,” says Sister Campbell.

“There is always great joy in joining together with other people,” says Associate Dianne MacAskill.

“The Teapot is on”

The result is a monthly afternoon lunch and tea.

“The place comes alive with women getting to know one another. It is nice to be present to see them greeting each other…and to see them happy,” said Sister Campbell. “It is an opportunity for women to connect and learn about other women.”

After everyone settles in, the women sit for lunch and tea. The Horizon Centre caters the event, the hosts provide the tea, and guests continue to connect and learn.

Every week there are some new faces that show up to check it out.

Women come to the gathering for different reasons, say the group of women organizing the event.

“It is an opportunity for returning expats to reconnect after being away,” says Sister Campbell. “There are some women who are not working and feel the need to get out to connect with others.”

“Someone may have lost a husband, or a friend and they haven’t been able to meet anyone who has been through the same thing until they meet each other, and then they make a friend,” said MacAskill.”

She notes that some women are afraid to be alone or to get out alone, and the monthly gathering offers some companionship in a safe environment. It is also wheelchair accessible.

Ultimately, “its all about connecting,” says MacAskill.

Both Sister Campbell and MacAskill agree they are pleased with the monthly turnouts, but they want more women.

“There is a need for this,” says MacAskill. “There are a lot of lonely women out there.”

Although the youngest participant has been a baby, the group would like some additional representation from the younger crowd and from newcomers.

Sister Campbell says the addition of both would be more than welcome. “Women enjoy meeting younger women. Newcomers broaden our view, and we learn to relate to each other better. It would be interesting to have newcomers; to be able to welcome them.”

So far, the group of six has hosted four gatherings. Admittedly, only a few attended the first one, but the next month (and the one that followed) they had more than 30 attend their afternoon gathering. The fourth saw a slight decline, but they are confident that women will come out to this month’s upcoming gathering.

Although they meet in the convent of a Catholic Church, the group stresses that the gathering is nondenominational in nature. “We are using it because they give it to us,” sneaks in MacAskill.

The group meets every third Tuesday afternoon of the month between 1:30 and 3:30 at Holy Redeemer Convent at 24 Neville Street in Whitney Pier in Sydney (behind the Post Office).

You can also checkout the event listings in The Third to find their next gathering.

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What an wonderful article Michelle Coffin wrote informing women readers of our TEA AND TALK. Held the third Tuesday of every month at Holy Redeemer Convent 1:30 -3:30 pm. Come for the tea and do not forget the Chat Dianne MacAskill

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