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As the pandemic's first wave of lockdowns began, there was plenty of chatter about how it would affect couples, relationships and sex — and consequently what it would mean for contraception. Earlier this year, the UN warned in a report that more than 47 million women in 114 countries could lose access to contraception if health services continue to be heavily disrupted.
As many now brace for COVID-19's second wave, and renewed restrictions, birth control is again on people's minds. A recent report in Canada found that the health crisis has prompted many to reassess their main method of contraception.
Not the best time to be pregnant: According to the report from polling company Léger published by La Presse, around 42% of Canadian women indicated that they were considering or planning to change their main method of contraception and more than half also say they plan to ask their doctors to reconsider their main method of contraception in case of a second wave of cases.
• The main reason: women want to make sure that they have the best contraceptive method possible: 3/4 of the women who took part in the survey felt it was important to avoid unwanted pregnancy during the pandemic because of the uncertainty and instability it has generated.
• This is also true in the United States, where a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that 49% of women surveyed had changed their plans about when to have children or how many children to have.
• The increased difficulty or inability to see a doctor in person is also an additional worry for women.
Choosing the best method: The Léger report also reveals that more than 3/4 of participants who used a contraceptive in the last six months have chosen the pill — a method which requires greater regular discipline to be effective, according to a nurse practitioner.
• "All our habits have been modified, the pandemic has changed people's routines … For example, women who stay at home all day with their children teleworking, it changes their daily life, and they risk forgetting their pill more often", Julie Poirier told La Presse.
• The Guttmacher Institute study found that 23% of women reported thinking about getting a longer-acting contraceptive method such as an IUD or an implant.
• Anna, a 24-year-old American, told online magazine Bustle that she switched from the pill that she'd been taking for nearly a decade to an IUD to get her birth control "all lined up" and feel more secure for a few years.
There's a heaviness to the pandemic that's weighing people down, including in a very literal sense. Here in Canada, polls show that some 40% of the population gained weight since mid-March.
The issue isn't, of course, limited to this country. Nor is there one single explanation for why some people have put on a few extra kilograms of late. But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.
Leading the way is the government of Great Britain, where public initiatives include a ban on television and online junk food advertising before 9 p.m. Restaurant menus will also be required to display calories, while over-the-top marketing campaigns for calorie-heavy foods will have to stop: No more chocolate bars near cash registers that encourage impulse buying.
British authorities are even considering a requirement that calories be displayed on alcoholic products. The "Better Health" campaign, as it's known, will be introduced with expanded weight management plans to serve citizens, and will run for nine months.
But governments are choosing to act now, during the pandemic, to raise awareness among their citizens.
The timing of the campaign is no coincidence: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who lost more than 6 kgs (13 lbs) after suffering a life-threatening COVID-19 infection last May — acknowledged that overweight people are more likely than people of average weight to contract the virus. About 60% of Britons are overweight, including the prime minister himself.
The food and drink industry was quick to react by saying that the initiative was a good thing, even though this kind of campaign isn't to everyone's liking, since certain products are intentionally targeted. Some companies claim that the program is unfair and prevents the British from enjoying themselves.
Here in Canada, research suggests that about 25% of the people have used self-isolating as an opportunity to change their habits and adopt healthier behaviors. But there's also evidence that more than half of the population has had more difficulty staying healthy during this period.
Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits. While it is important to stay active to successfully lose and maintain weight, it is also essential to improve diets, as most people consume more calories than they need. Snacks and sales of alcoholic beverages are increasing throughout the West.
Along with nationwide mass advertising, the British campaign will specifically target areas and groups most affected by obesity. Evidence shows that Black, Asian and minority communities are disproportionately affected by obesity and COVID-19.
The British government's effort should be acknowledged for going much further than any other campaign of its kind. First, it is timely, given the pandemic and its impact on certain demographic groups. The program addresses the taboo of obesity, an important factor in the prevention of COVID-19. It is also the first time a health-oriented program has interfered with the way products are sold in stores without using a regressive tax.
Yes, retailer revenues will be affected. But the program will only last nine months. The same goes for advertising and media revenues. But again, these measures are intended to be temporary. It is a kind of pilot project, and one that will no doubt cost the British state a lot of money for advertising and promotion.
Either way, the "Great Quarantine" — aside from the stress it caused — has changed our habits.
Paradoxically, the announcement of the British approach came just 10 days after the same government spent roughly $750 million on restaurant discounts to encourage its citizens to go out more. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August, every citizen will be entitled to a savings of $15 a day every time they visit a restaurant. Any restaurant can participate in the program, even fast-food restaurants where calorie-filled and unhealthy products are sold in abundance. In this regard, there's a glaring lack of consistency.
In Canada, certain practices are already in place: For example, the number of calories is displayed next to each dish on menus. A next and necessary step is to publicly admit that our population is too fat and even fatter than before.
We should use our COVID-19 public service announcements to encourage people to exercise more and lead active lifestyles. True, the importance of protecting oneself should not be overlooked, but it's also a good opportunity to share a more positive message — while giving Canadians a welcome light push.
*Sylvain Charlebois is a Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
**This article was translated with permission from the author.
Let's talk about the words that are at the center of this wake-up-call of a debate.
There's the word "racism," for starters. It's a garbage dump of a word, one that embodies a stinking reality, that brings to mind filth like Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan.
That's what comes to the mind of a 48-year-old Quebecer. To the minds of a lot of people, in other words — people I know, people I grew up with in our very white suburb, the vast majority raised in the fold of 1970s-era French-Canadian Catholicism.
Where I come from, racism is also a word of action. Almost a verb. A Siamese twin of hatred. What I mean is, it's not something soft. Hatred is not passive.
Here's another term: "systemic discrimination." It established itself sometimes in the 2010s. I can't remember exactly the first time I heard it, but I remember I was taken aback: What, the "system" is racist? It couldn't be, goddammit. This is Quebec we're talking about. Canada. It's not a racist place.
Let me remind you that my understanding of the word "racism" was Hitler and the KKK. It was something active, like a hunt — a hunt of the race that is considered inferior. Canada and Quebec, I thought, are not perfect. There is racism here just like anywhere else. But come on, there are no lynchings, no Brownshirts here....
But then you linger on it. You listen again and again. You listen to those who are not like you.
There is racism here just like anywhere else.
You listen to these stories that are widespread amongst Black people, who are regularly stopped by the police while driving or on foot — for a "routine check," and right here in Montreal… Just like everywhere else.
Is it racism?
Well, you tell yourself: This obviously isn't Alabama in the 1960s.
Except if it's you who are sitting in the car. Sure, it may not be Alabama, but it's still something that's very annoying, and infuriating, and...unfair.
You look at the statistics. You listen to testimonies, again and again. And then you ask yourself: Wait, did it ever happen to me? Was I ever stopped for a "routine check"? For speeding, yes. For a stop sign that I passed too quickly, yes. For a defective headlight.
But just to check if I was really the owner of the car I was driving?
Did a police officer ever ask me how I could afford such a car?
Again you look at the stats. Higher unemployment rates, in spite of equal qualifications, for minorities, for those who are not from the circle of people with last names like Tremblay, who weren't baptized in the Church.
You look at the public sector and see that statistically, it doesn't represent the demographic weight of Quebecer minorities. Far from it.
You learn about these tests where employers receive fake CVs: one with the name Tremblay and one with a foreign name. Guess who has less chance of getting an interview?
That's when you realize that, yeah... maybe it does make sense to talk about systemic racism.
Not racism in the sense of hunting the other, or like Alabama in the 1960s or Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. But in the sense that the system is biased and doesn't give an equal chance to everyone.
Let's call this a blind spot. Is it racism, in the same sense that I conceived racism? No. But maybe it's because I grew up with a narrow vision of what racism is. All of this to say is I agree with the notion of systemic racism.
What I don't understand is why François Legault, our current provincial prime minister, refuses to say that there is systemic racism in Quebec.
I'm happy to see that he wants to fight racism, that he finds it unacceptable and created an action committee that promises a set of rules for next autumn. We'll see how this translates into reality. Either way, we really do need to tackle racial discrimination, and for one simple reason: It's unfair.
Again, I don't know why François Legault refuses to say that there is systemic racism in Quebec. But do I have a theory: It's because he knows Quebecers well.
If you are 30 or younger, born after 1990, it may be difficult to appreciate how much Quebecers were dragged into the mud over the decades, starting, let's say, from the time Quebec began to assert itself.
Outside Quebec, the Quebec bashing was a very concrete reality. The Parti Québecois (PQ), created by René Lévesque, was associated with Nazis. The Law 101 (which defined French as the official language of the provincial government) was denounced as racist, something like a form of apartheid.
When Mohawks rebelled in 1990 — the Oka crisis, as it's known — we were labeled as fundamentally racists, as if only people in Quebec have a guilty conscience with regards to Canada's first nations groups.
At each referendum, in 1980 and 1995, Quebecers — Francophones of course — were again called racists and intolerant just because they wanted to obtain a state in a democratic way.
Over the decades, things have been written about Quebec in the Canadian-English media that we can't imagine would be said about other provinces, societies, nations.
During the 1990 Oka Crisis — Photo: Dick Loek/The Toronto Star/ZUMA
So if you are 30 today, there's a good chance that this reality doesn't exist. To understand it, you would need to have lived at that time. To feel it. I remember. The generation of my parents remember. I won't say it's a trauma. But it's a very unpleasant memory.
A committee on systemic racism? For a lot of Quebecers, this will be another opportunity to criticize us. As it was done before…
Coming back to our prime minister: My theory is that he knows that there is systemic racism here but that also, he doesn't want Quebecers to be a piñata for all those who think that "frogs' — as everyone already knows — think like Nazis...
I've only experienced one racist insult in my life. I am talking about one concrete and clear example. About 30 years ago, on a soccer field in West Island, an English-speaking person called me a "fucking frog."
I don't say that to play the victim. I'm not. I talk about his because I remember the effect it had on me, what it stirred in me. A volcano.
Last week, comedian and singer Mélissa Bédard shared on social media some of the racist insults she has received over the years. She's Black, and the things people have said to her are appalling, disgusting. I can't even imagine what these racist insults do to her every time she reads them. I imagine my experience in West Island, but a thousand times worse. Multiply this over and over, for almost all Black Quebecers.
I don't know if we will be ever able to stop the flow of racists who don't hesitate to insult someone like Mélissa Bédard. But I do know that things could be done on the state level to stop "soft" racism — the systematic discrimination that, while it may be involuntary, is no less unfair.
Should it be done by saying that yes, there is systemic racism in Quebec? If we name the source of the problem, all the better.
Things could be done on the state level to stop "soft" racism.
But along with naming it, there also needs to be action. Because otherwise, what happens? Talk to Canada's indigenous populations, who are flooded with apologies of all kinds… but who are still as marginalized and discriminated as before.
My preference is that the State vigorously fight racism with all the available tools: laws, rules and norms, but also sanctions.
Actions, in other words. And overtures.
That's what the prime minister is promising, and that, I'd argue, really is something.
*This article was translated with permission of the author.
MONTREAL — The video lasted just seven seconds, but it was enough to unleash a fury of online outrage. "They could have chosen anyone else to make an ad," one Facebook user wrote. "Things start to stink a hell of a lot when governments and big companies push the neighbor's religion on us …"
The source of the fury? An August 9 promotional video from the Canadian branch of retail chain The Home Depot featuring an orange-aproned employee wearing a hijab, ostensibly an example of the promotion of a diverse and well-trained work force. "Our specialized training programs and unlimited opportunities for advancement helped Sehrish go from cashier to talent acquisition specialist," declares the retailer.
In the days that followed, Francophone users of social media took to their keyboards to express their discontent. "Why do they always show someone with a tablecloth on their head?" one woman wrote. "They're expletive hypocrites and slaves, obedient to their masters, to make an ad for Muslims," another raged. Other Facebook users said they would boycott the store.
A Canadian journalist denounces the "violent" reactions to Home Depot's video — Screenshot: Twitter
Speaking to Montreal-based La Presse news website, Sociology professor Rachad Antonius acknowledged that such reactions are "clearly a racist, Islamophobic reaction," yet cautioned that it was limited to a small but vocal minority, and no public figures were involved. For its part, The Home Depot didn't take the video down, and decided not to comment on the backlash it provoked, releasing the following *statement: "Home Depot is proud of the diversity of its workforce, and the objective of this advertisement is the demonstrate the unlimited possibilities for advancement that the company offers."
Hijabs are banned in public primary and secondary schools in France.
Across the Atlantic, however, a similar uproar extended well beyond social media comment sections. After a Gap clothing store ad in July featured a hijab-wearing schoolgirl, several national politicians in France voiced their anger. Le Figaro reports that Anne-Christine Lang, a member of Parliament from President Emmanuel Macron's La République En Marche party, took to Twitter to say: "I will never accept seeing little girls veiled. I'll never shop at Gap again. #BoycottGap." She was joined by center-right party Les Républicains spokesperson Lydia Guirous, who tweeted: "Gap continues its submission to Islamism with posters of little girls wearing veils. On many occasions, I have denounced the growing occurrence of veils being imposed on little girls, which is a form of abuse and goes against our values of equality, liberty and laïcité (secularism)!"
From the new Gap ad campaign
An online petition for Gap Europe to dissociate itself from the campaign, which features students from a public school in New York, collected 7,500 signatures. Hijabs are banned in public primary and secondary schools in France.
Back in Quebec, where schoolgirls are free to wear headscarves, the issue of Muslim head covering is nonetheless far from apolitical. In October, the province's ruling Liberal party passed a religious neutrality law barring persons wearing a full-face veil from receiving public services, although this provision has since been suspended by the courts. The province's main opposition parties have criticized the law for lacking force and clarity, with the Parti Québecois promising to "go much further" on the issue of laïcité.
*The article has been updated to include the statement released by Home Depot when contacted by La Presse.