COVID-19: Telling her-stories

Posted on Monday, October 5, 2020

Collage of women's faces

Four women from the University of Ottawa Library have taken it upon themselves to ensure that women’s voices, stories, and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada are captured and preserved.  

These stories of success, struggle, happiness, and sadness will be stored in the Library’s Women’s Archives and will allow researchers and future generations to understand how women in Canada experienced the pandemic in their everyday lives.

“History has often overlooked the experiences of women, rarely offering first-hand insight into the impact of major historical events on their lives,” says Yoo Young Lee, Open Scholarship and Digital Initiatives Librarian at the uOttawa Library.  

Documenting the disproportionate impact on women

After reading about anecdotal evidence showing that the COVID-19 pandemic was having a disproportionate impact on women, Lee decided to collect their stories and experiences.

“I was struck by the quote “Always present – often invisible” that the Vasa Museum in Stockholm uses to describe women’s roles on the Vasa ship that sank in 1628, and how there is often a lack of focus on women’s stories even though we are always present,” she says. “Now we keep reading and hearing women’s stories around the pandemic: struggling to balance work and family, job loss disproportionally impacting women, frontline female workers, and more. We believe that women’s stories are important, and to make them visible, we have to recognize and document them.”

Fortunately, Lee works closely with the team at the Library’s Women’s Archives – an invaluable resource for those examining the history of women in Canada – and brought her idea to Marina Bokovay, Head of Archives and Special Collections.

“When Yoo Young approached me with her idea, I knew immediately that it was something we had to do,” says Bokovay. “I understand how important it is to capture the voices and records of women, especially during such an unprecedented time, and our team has the expertise in digital preservation to ensure that what we capture is well cared for and can be made available to everyone.”

A place for every woman’s story

Once Digital Humanities Support Specialist Roxanne Lafleur and Digital Archivist Satya Miller brought their own tech savvy to the mix, the COVID-19: telling her-stories project was born.

The joys of spending more time with family. The challenges and loneliness of studying or working remotely. The frustration of juggling work and childcare. Everyone’s daily life has been affected by the pandemic in one way or another, and this project invites anyone who self-identifies as a woman in Canada to share these unique experiences in whatever format they want, be it written accounts, photos, or audio or video recordings. 

"The more stories we are able to collect, the stronger this project will be,” says Bokovay.

To submit your story, visit the COVID-19: telling her-stories website.

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