The COVID-19 pandemic has been a global health emergency and triggered a significant global economic downturn, as seen in the latest report by the World Economic Forum. Besides, the global gender gap has widened from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
Unlike previous economic downturns, the current crisis has unique implications for women compared to men. Previous recessions, like the one in 2008, predominantly affected men, with higher job losses in industries such as manufacturing and construction. In contrast, the current crisis has disproportionately impacted service occupations, which often have high female employment rates, such as restaurants and hospitality. This divergence in the sectors contributes to differential consequences for women and men.
On the one hand, one of the significant channels through which the pandemic affects women and men differently is the closure of schools and daycare facilities. With more than 1.5 billion children out of school worldwide, childcare needs have dramatically increased. Traditional sources of childcare, such as grandparents or sharing responsibilities with neighbours and friends, have become limited due to health concerns and social distancing measures. As a result, most families have no choice but to rely on parents to care for their children. Given the existing distribution of childcare duties in most families, mothers are likely to be more affected than fathers. Single mothers, who are already in a disadvantaged economic position, will bear the brunt of this burden.
On the other hand, more women than men have lost their jobs, and women are overrepresented in essential roles that expose them to infection and psychological stress. However, one potentially positive aspect is the increased telecommuting, which has allowed men to engage in more childcare. This has the potential to reduce the gender gap in domestic responsibilities and promote gender equality in the long term.
The differential impact of the pandemic on women and men emphasizes the need for targeted interventions to mitigate the effects and promote gender equality. Policymakers and organisations must prioritise supporting women in the labour market, ensuring access to affordable and safe childcare, and creating flexible work arrangements. Encouraging shared responsibilities in caregiving and promoting gender equality within households can lead to positive long-term changes.
By implementing targeted measures and fostering a culture of shared responsibilities, we can strive towards a more inclusive and equitable future, where gender equality is not just a goal but a reality.