When Covid-19 hit the world and lockdowns were announced, there was an initial trend of more men participating in household chores and childcare responsibilities. But as the work-from-home system continued and the lockdowns turned into boredoms, these duties have fallen back onto women workers and their jobless peers. N13 explores how Covid has stretched the gender inequality in our societies.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was predicted that the catastrophe might help the world reduce the gender gap because of the introduction of work-from-home (WFH) systems and strict lockdown restrictions. It was anticipated that men would get involved more in household responsibilities having seen from close quarters how women, especially women workers, balance their careers and home chores.
The initial trends were also favourable, as the world saw more men taking responsibilities of childcare and other household duties. However, almost a year into a pandemic-dominated phase, the world is seeing a devastating effect on gender equality, pegging women back by even decades in countries like India. Systems like schools and day-care centres, which used to help working mothers, are no longer operating in the same style, forcing women to quit jobs to take care of their families.
Studies prove women are at a disadvantage
Various global studies have proved that women employees have been at a greater disadvantage since the start of the pandemic. A Boston Consulting Group study has found that working women spend an average of 15 hours a week more on unpaid domestic labour than men. Another research by the University of Melbourne found that parents are daily putting in an extra six hours of care and supervision for their children, but mothers are responsible for two-thirds of this extra time.
Studies by Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich researchers have also found that working women in the UK, Germany and the US did more childcare than men. The findings by Pew Research Centre indicate that around 11.5 million women lost their jobs between February and May in the United States, compared to 9 million men, although the ratio of employment is inverse.
A United Nations paper released in April has said the pandemic could dilute decades of advancement on gender equality. There has been a significant drop in the number of academic papers submitted by women, despite being in lockdowns. On the contrary, there has not been any drop in the number of academic papers by men. Experts believe this is because women have to take care of children who stay at home and attend online classes.
A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in the UK showed that mothers have a 23% more chance than fathers to temporarily or permanently become unemployed during the pandemic. But these studies do not just point to the developed world. In fact, the gender gap has widened even further in developing countries like India.
The figures released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) show that women have lost more jobs than men in India due to the pandemic. The average employment in India had declined from 403 million during January 2019-March 2020 to 282 million in April 2020. However, this was recovered to 392 million in August. But, the statistics shows that the recovery was concentrated more on men. The year-on-year average of male employment in August was 98%, compared to women employment at 91%.
Studies have revealed Indian women spend 5-10x more time on home chores compared to men. On average, Indian women do six hours of unpaid work each day, while men spend only 52 minutes, according to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Another shocking statistics by the World Bank shows India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) has declined drastically in the last 30 years. In 1990, India’s FLFP was 30.3%, which collapsed to 20.5% in 2019. The fiscal crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic has further affected the Indian FLFP as women account for only 19.9% of the total labour force this year. Only Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Iran, and the West Bank and Gaza have a lower FLFP rate than India.
How do we fix the undoing?
Researchers believe we need key changes as a society and households to resolve the gender inequality this pandemic has created.
Employers have to consider the working conditions at home and the different roles that a woman employee has to undertake while working from home. Employers should also launch constructive ways to encourage male employees to participate in household chores and ease the stress of women. On the other hand, men should also take voluntary initiatives to share responsibilities. It is also important that there are discussions about what constitutes a fair share of the load.
Increasing women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points is expected to add $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025, according to a study conducted by McKinsey Global Institute on Asia Pacific countries. The policy-makers at all levels should ensure women’s equal representation in all Covid-19 response planning and decision-making. The fact that more women workers are fired from jobs during the pandemic explains that there is not enough female representation in the decision-making processes. By putting women, especially women workers, at the centre of economies, the society will fundamentally drive better, become more sustainable, and help the economy grow during the post-pandemic struggles.