Fewer women than men will regain work during the Covid-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new paper. In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the U.N. agency, highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs.
This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts.
The study suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing.
Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the ILO paper revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.
This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent.
In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women. And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes.
To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step.
Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately.Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO.
Another study by Oxfam, found that the Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.
The $800 billion in income lost by women worldwide also just tops the $721.5 billion that the US government spent in 2020 on the world’s largest defense budget.
To achieve the income loss figure, Oxfam first estimated the average income among women globally and then multiplied this figure by the number of women working in 2019 and 2020. The average income figure comes from the ILO’s indicator: Mean nominal monthly earnings of employees by sex and economic activity for the year 2019.
While women were losing out, some companies were thriving. Amazon gained $700 billion in market capitalization in 2020, Oxfam said.
The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day in 2021.
“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work through strong social safety nets and vibrant care infrastructures. Recovery from COVID-19 is impossible without women recovering” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.