THE FACT OF THE MATTER
One could be forgiven for thinking that, while all eyes are on Afghanistan and the plight of its women, all is well with the world and women elsewhere.
If only it were so. Eighteen months on the Covid crisis has led to a decline in living standards for girls and women around the world, according to global watchdogs. With access to school sporadically disrupted, massive job losses, domestic violence, increasing incidents of rape and teenage pregnancy, the situation is now critical on a scale matched only by the pandemic itself.
When one considers that 70% of global health workers are women, that, too, exacerbates their lot.
Health, however, is not the only sector where women are overrepresented: according to a UN Policy Brief up to 60% of women work in the informal economy, making them considerably more vulnerable to the crisis. School closures, too, and the increasing needs of the elderly have, no surprise here, led to women spending more time doing unpaid work.
A report by Deloitte Global, which surveyed 5,000 women in 10 countries, finds 80% of women saying their workloads have increased because of the pandemic, while 66% report having more responsibilities at home.
The common stereotype is thus being reinforced. Gender inequality is on the rise due to the crisis, says the UN. According to one brief, women are almost twice more likely than men to have lost their jobs during the pandemic, while according to an EU report, women are “forced into precarious jobs” because they can’t get affordable childcare.
Girls’ access to education, one of the biggest considerations in gender equality, is also on the decline, as I wrote some weeks back. In 2020, up to 11 million girls worldwide were unable to attend school. This return to the household for women and girls is concerning, says the UN.
For woman, the pandemic has created a sharp increase in domestic violence and sexual abuse, globally, according to Amnesty International which cites copious examples from Africa to the Americas.
In Ireland we cannot afford to be complacent. Women in business here have taken on more of the burden of family care, according to one survey, raising concern that the Covid-19 crisis could reverse progress towards equality at work. The research for Ibec, the business lobby group, suggests the coronavirus has had a deep impact on the working lives of many women, sharpening inequalities that were already there before the coming of the rogue microbe.
One in five companies of 270 surveyed reported a change in the position of women in the past 18 months, with employers citing increased pressure on female workers and more childcare responsibilities. Which prompts the question, where is that village that rears a child?
Women here had more early starts, late finishes and sought more time off to look after children and elderly relations.
“Historically women are disproportionately impacted by crises, disasters and societal disruption, and Covid-19 checks all those boxes,” says Dr Kara McGann, head of social policy with Ibec. “Our findings confirm that Covid-19 has accentuated long-standing gender imbalances across several dimensions, threatening hard-won markers of gender equity.”
Almost half of the Ibec respondents – 48% – said more women than men had asked changes to their working patterns to facilitate ‘other’ responsibilities. Only 3% said more men than women had made the same request. In addition, one in three respondents said that more females than males had asked for unpaid leave to facilitate caring responsibilities. Again, only 3% said more men than women sought such leave.
Meanwhile research at Maynooth University found that one in 10 women has quit work because of the pressures of juggling a job with pandemic home life. And that in almost two thirds of families, the mother took the full responsibility with any homeschooling.
And, yes, it is not just the pandemic that’s to blame.
Even before Covid, Oxfam found that women in Ireland did 38 million hours of unpaid work every single week, domestic chores and care work that enabled others to go out into paid employment.
Now consider this. If such women received a living wage for this invisible work it would cost the State €24bn a year.
It seems all that was still wrong in Irish society before Covid has been exacerbated during the lockdowns and the only way we can learn anything is to refocus our watch on society-changing economic and social issues as we struggle to come out of it all…