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the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality

When we think about the most relevant implications of COVID-19 for our society, everything that comes to our mind is related to the negative impact of the pandemic from an economic perspective (the massive reduction in the Gross Domestic Product, job losses and the increase of the unemployment rate). But we should also consider the substantial effects of the pandemic that can be hidden in some ways, because they are less measurable.

How has COVID set back gender equality?

For instance, Covid-19 risks to set back the progress made over years in gender equality from several points of view:

  • First of all, empirical evidence shows that nowadays female jobs are 19% more at risk than male ones: in fact, while the traditional economic crisis tends to reduce the gender gap (because the sectors, which have a larger share of male employment are cyclical and underperform, while the sectors with female dominant employment, like health care and education, perform better), in the current situation, the industries that have been hit the most are the ones where women are more employed than men, just like retail, accommodation and food service. This has resulted in many job losses and wage reductions among women, even though the impact has been different across countries.

  • Secondly, another important factor that has contributed to the increase in gender inequality is the growth in the demand of the unpaid-care work (including cooking, cleaning, childcare, elderly care…) that is usually carried out by women: this means that the female workforce has to spend more time on family responsibilities, reducing their chance of developing their careers, gaining new skills or assuming a leadership position.

  • Moreover, women could find it more difficult than in normal times to access financial services and bank credit, especially in developing countries, because of the higher level of perceived risk. And this phenomenon could actually produce regressive effects in terms of female entrepreneurship.

  • Last but not least, we should not forget about the domestic violence experienced by women from their partner, that could get worse during the current situation.

Three potential scenarios

To measure the potential impact that gender inequality caused by the pandemic could have on national economies performance, researchers from McKinsey&Company have drawn up three hypothetical scenarios:

  1. A “do nothing” scenario, the most negative one, where no improvement is achieved in gender parity, so that women would experience an unequal share of job losses, which would reduce the female labour force participation rate and the global GDP (it is estimated that it could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women unemployment tracked that of men in each sector).

  2. A “take action now scenario”, the most preferable one, where governments would take decisions in 2020 and beyond that would improve gender equality over the next decade, with an incredible increase in the GDP by 2030.

  3. A “wait to take action” scenario, a middle path in which policy makers would wait until 2024, when the crisis is expected to be over, to take action and make progress in terms of gender equality (in this case the negative impact would be lower than the first scenario, but we could lose $5 trillion in terms of economic opportunity than the second one).

What is clear from this brief overview is that maintaining this gender discrimination could not only have a negative influence on the economic and social lives of women, but it could also reduce the economic growth on a macro level. Consequently, these effects should be taken into account by policy makers when making their decisions: reversing the regressive trend will require large investments from the public sector (in education, maternal mortality prevention, digital inclusion and unpaid care work), but the economic benefits are estimated to be from six to eight times higher than the spending required.

What can companies do?

Companies as well can start to take action against gender inequality, and in particular they should:

  1. Track the data about the regressive impact on gender gap within their company (Are job losses among women higher? Have promotion rates of women slowed?);

  2. Take action: companies should ensure that their HR policies include gender diversity, and that female workers are encouraged to participate in training and reskilling programs. Moreover, they should care about the health and the well-being of their women employees;

  3. Seize corporate opportunities that increase gender equality: for example, companies can promote diversity and inclusion policies across their entire supply chain and financial firms can make sure that their services reach women entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, we can say that investing in gender equality represents a great opportunity to drive an inclusive economic development and to support the recovery of our society from the pandemic.

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