This pandemic might have impacted the society globally, but this crisis has been disproportionately harder on women than men. Whether it is economically, physically or mentally, women have been the most vulnerable to its impact.

Women are on the front lines of the fight against the virus, making up 70% of global healthcare workers and as much as 95% of long-term care workers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They are not only putting their lives at risk, but also make up majority of employees that have been exposed to the risk of losing jobs due to lockdowns across countries.

Worst hit industries have high women representation

The economic dip caused by the virus is not like the past recessions we have witnessed, The worst hit sectors this time are hospitality, retail, travel and leisure where women make up a large share of the workforce with high female employment rates. Also, the type of roles women hold in these industries are more customer centric and a major reason for the disproportionate rate at which women are losing jobs compared to men. As per a new Citigroup report more than 220 million women globally are in these vulnerable sectors. They expect 31 million to lose their jobs, as opposed to 13 million men. Another report by Business Insider suggests , 60% of the Americans laid off in the past two months have been women. Most of the jobs were in the travel and hospitality industries, as restaurants, hotels and airlines were largely shut. On the other hand, Technical jobs, where male workers are higher in proportion, were easily moved to work-from-home positions, and job losses have been less extensive there.

Work from Home is not the same for Men and Women

Since women are considered primary caregivers and domestic workers not coming, they have been relegated to unending household chores because everyone is at home all the time. Women are managing childcare with children out-of-school and care needs of older persons with overwhelmed health services even though both are working from home. The latest report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) points out how women are taking on a far bigger share than men of housework, caring for elderly relatives or children, and even home schooling. And that is over and above a full-time job in most of the cases. This has been adversely impacting women in terms of:

  • Employability – the current situation is impacting their availability to pick up extra assignments/projects at work, reducing their flexibility when employers are trying to find reasons for asking employees to leave, might need to cut their working hours or take frequent leaves. All these factors would be detrimental to their current employment and even future employment prospects.
  • Mental Well being –Women already shouldered the household responsibilities before the pandemic, Now, physical, and emotional demands of family members are soaring post the pandemic and so is depression and anxiety amongst women. Boundaries are blurring between home and office post the pandemic which has disproportionately affected women’s well being. A major study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found young women are faring worst as compared to men – with the overall mental health of women aged between 16 and 24 found to be 11 per cent worse than before the crisis.

Increase in Domestic Violence

Due to forced proximity, lack of mobility and no access to public spaces during lockdown across countries, domestic violence has increased worldwide. During the first months of the COVID-19-related lockdown, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years. In response to the alarming incidence of gender-based violence during the pandemic, the UN is encouraging governments to treat legal, medical and related responses to domestic violence as emergency services.

Unpaid Work during Pandemic

This calamity has made the fact evident that maintenance of daily lives across economies is built on the invisible and unpaid labour of women. With school closures, increased hygiene requirements at home, elderly care and household chores, unpaid work by women has intensified exponentially over the last 4-5 months. But it still remains unaccounted for, in the global economic response. Unpaid care work has long been identified as a major reason for gender inequality and with the crisis at hand, it has exacerbated the already existing gaps in income, education opportunities, and their impact on health of women.

Clearly, this pandemic is having serious impact on the economic prospects of women. Talking about India, 94% of the women who are counted as being in the workforce remain concentrated in the informal sector. In sectors apart from agriculture, women are usually working as domestic workers, construction laborers, garment factory workers, beauty, salon and spa services providers etc. With the lockdown everything came to an abrupt halt and as it is being eased, the overall slowdown in economic activity is not a positive for women employment. In fact, some leading economist are calling the current crisis as “she-cession” instead of recession leading to reinforcement of many already existing gender inequalities in the society.

These are all points to ponder on. We cannot heal and recover unless we heal as a whole. Excessive negative impact on any part of the society, will take years to undo. This is an opportunity to rethink gender norms, start afresh and root out gender biases from the society and workplaces. Policy makers and corporate leaders need to recognize these inequalities, address them by building a robust gender inclusive policy and economic response and help women navigate through this pandemic. This is the time for organizations to strengthen their Diversity and Inclusion efforts. Ensure equity while making hiring or lay off decisions, offering inclusive policies and benefits with focus on offsetting the repercussions this pandemic has had on women.