Covid-19 is not gender neutral. It is grafted onto pre-existing disparities, increasing and consolidating them. According to the Living, Working and Covid report, recently published by Eurofound (European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions), women are paying a higher price for the pandemic compared to men, in terms of both employment and family.
The report makes the economic impact of Covid-19 very clear, painting a frightening picture for everyone. Following the socio-economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, both men and women lost their jobs. But there is a much greater gap when crossing gender and age groups. In the coming months, young women (18 - 34 years old) run a higher risk (11%) of becoming unemployed than young men (9%). Between 35 and 49 years old, only 6% of men feel the same risk, compared to 9% of women. For those who have remained in business despite the crisis, is the type of contract to sanction the gap between genders: permanent contracts are less common among young women (63%) than among adult men (87%).
Moreover, a new report from Young Women’s Trust, the London-based feminist organisation, has found that in the UK an estimated 1.5 million young women have lost income since the start of the pandemic, while 750,000 of those who have had to go to work fears for their safety and protection against the virus. A third of the women interviewed (33%) applied for a job since the outbreak of coronavirus in March 2020 and didn’t hear anything back, and this was even higher for 18-24 year old women at 41%. 13% of young women skipped meals to make ends meet, over two thirds (69%) claimed benefits this year for the very first time in their lives.
The scenario worsens a lot if work mixes with family. Although remote working was a key factor in ensuring business continuity, it has led to a rise in the number of people working from home, resulting in difficulties in managing work–life conflicts and an increase in the incidence of overtime. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when European countries were in full lockdown and parents had to juggle closed schools, it was women (24%) who faced more obstacles in balancing work and private life. In the following months, as many containment measures had failed, the gap between one gender and another even widened.
No wonder the repercussions of the pandemic have a deeper impact on women: it is the reflection of a socially imposed inequality. As we could imagine, there has been a significant decline in the number of young women who think women’s equality has got better. Just 8% of young women said that women’s equality has got better in the last 12 months (compared to 18% of young men who thought that), down from last year when 15% of young women agreed with this statement, and 2018 when 26% agreed.
The COVID-19 crisis presents a serious risk of rolling back decades of gains achieved in gender equality. The unintended consequences of measures put in place by many governments during 2020, in an attempt to control the spread of the pandemic, has been to considerably increase women’s share of unpaid work. That has proved to be burdensome for many working mothers that have found themselves juggling between work, home-schooling and care, all in the same pocket of space and often without help form the partners or the government.
Dionne Boateng, a peer researcher for the Young Women’s Trust said: “Unfortunately 2020 has seen new forms of sexism creep in too, leaving young women at risk and feeling helpless because of the virus. Now more than ever, giving young women equal opportunities and the chance to contribute their skills and experiences, not only makes sense socially, it makes sense economically too as the country tries to recover from this pandemic”.
While some of the gender-unequal impacts of the current crisis might be temporary and could reverse at a later stage, others could have long-lasting consequences. It is essential, therefore, that the economic and social inclusion of women is at the core of recovery measures.