03 Jul 2020 How Covid-19 is affecting women, widening gender inequality in the workforce
COVID19 has been affecting women and men in disproportionate ways, with women bearing higher economic costs.
The coronavirus crisis has been affecting women and men in different and disproportionate ways. Even if men appear to be at higher health risk, women bear higher social and economic costs.
The female population is most at risk of finding themselves unemployed because they work in the sectors most affected by the lockdown, such as tourism, catering, personal services, retail, hospitality. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job losses in the hospitality and leisure sector, employing a high number of female workers, accounted for 38% of the 20,5million job lost in the US in April. Moreover, a smaller share of women (39%) than men (52%) work in “smart-workable” and/or critical occupations, meaning that women are more exposed to unemployment risk during this crisis. This higher exposure of women to employment loss is therefore likely to put upward pressure on the average gender wage gap for years to come.
In addition to this, women have been the most overburdened by unpaid activities related to home and childcare, due to the school closures during the lockdown. Already in April, as certified by ISTAT, the number of women looking for a job in Italy fell much more than men (-30.6% compared to -17.4%). Likewise, data show that the increase in the female inactivity rate was more pronounced among women aged between 25-49, hence in that phase of life in which women generally have children to take care of. In Germany, according to the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), in order to look after their children, 27% of mothers reduced the number of working hours (compared to 16% of fathers).
Even though, women are the majority of the workforce in the health sector, meaning that female representation is crucial in tackling the coronavirus crisis, they are under-represented in economic and political leadership positions. The gender imbalance has become more noticeable during the pandemic, especially in bodies convened to deal with designing economic stimulus and recovery policies. As the study commissioned by The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament shows, this gender imbalance is reflected in the EU design of the recovery plan as well. The Next Generation Eu package puts women at a disadvantage because, although female workers are mainly employed in the activities most affected by the pandemic crisis, the financial aid provided by the EU will instead flow into male-dominated sectors, without corrective measures to promote the inclusion of women.
This gender blindness seems not to take into consideration the importance of promoting female-dominated sectors, ignoring that when women drop out of the labor market, national GDP falls, as well as household income. Furthermore, women drive 70-80% of consumer spend, also thanks to their role as caregivers, so if their income decreases, national wealth and efficiency decrease too.
Some degree of optimism concerning women working conditions in the future is linked to the fact that, in response to the coronavirus, many companies are adopting smart-working options for their employees. Twitter, for example, has announced that it will allow homeworking permanently, while Google is allowing employees to work from home till the end of 2020, so that women do not have to choose between staying home with the children or go to the office. If this solution persists, it may benefit working women who struggle to balance careers and childcare needs, as the lack of flexible work arrangements is considered among the primary sources of the gender pay gap.
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