It’s Not Easy Being a Working Woman During a Pandemic

Women account for the bulk of the workforce in sectors like hospitality, retail, and education which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and enforced lockdowns. Since women usually hold more temporary positions in such sectors than men, they’ll be the first ones to suffer job cuts.

Covid-19 has brought everyone down to their knees. People have lost lives, economies have tumbled, markets have crashed. Everyone on this planet has suffered some way or the other. But not everyone is suffering equally. 

It has exacerbated the suffering of women across the globe and undone all the progress made to bridge the gender gap. And according to experts, it might take a long time to restore the slightly improved pre-pandemic gender equality figures.

In all honesty, the pandemic has been indifferent to women. It is believed that they’re more likely to lose jobs than men. According to one research study, there are a little over 220 million women in sectors that are vulnerable to job cuts. Further, as many as 44 million workers are employed in vulnerable sectors. Of these, 31 million are women looking at potential job cuts as opposed to 13 million men.

And it doesn’t end there — women are risking their lives and also losing their jobs.

This point is all the more clearer when you consider women in healthcare and long-term care who are on the front lines. According to a report, 95% of long-term care workers and as much as 70% of the global healthcare workforce is made up of women.

They also account for the bulk of the workforce in sectors like hospitality, retail, and education which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and enforced lockdowns. Since women usually hold more temporary positions in such sectors than men, they’ll be the first ones to be cut. 

This will continue as long as the pandemic-induced recession soldiers on. So, on one hand you have them risking their lives, and losing their means of livelihood on the other.

1.3 billion or roughly 44.3% women were employed before the pandemic struck. As for men, 70% or 2 billion were employed. There is a preconceived notion that whenever a recession-heavy catastrophe occurs, it is men, not women who suffer more. 

To understand this, you have to relate to the nature of work men and women take up. It’s understood that most men engage in industrial work like manufacturing and construction that are more prone to the effects of economic cycles. Women, on the other hand, find themselves in sectors, such as teaching and healthcare that aren’t as susceptible to erratic economic undulations as sectors where men make up most of the workforce. 

But women have suffered at the hands of recessions occurring at different time intervals, time and again. For instance, the current recession caused by the pandemic means reduced working hours and loss of employment in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, real estate, hospitality, food and beverages. As mentioned up top, women make up the bulk of the workforce in these sectors. As things stand, tough times lie ahead for them.

Another example of a recession not being fair to women employment yet again is the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2008-2009. Today, healthcare workers are in demand and so are individuals in the education sector. However, when the Great Recession ran its course in 2009, public funding for sectors like healthcare and education were slashed. You have to note that these underfunded sectors back then employed many women. 

As of today, the livelihood of women working in the wholesale/retail, real estate, hospitality and food, manufacturing sectors are under threat. As many as 527 million women or 41% of total employed women are deployed in the aforementioned sectors as compared to 35% of total employed men.   

These figures are a clear indication of how women will be affected more than men during the pandemic. What’s more, considering the income of countries, 50% of women working in such sectors belong to nations with high incomes whereas 40% belong to those with incomes in the upper-middle region. The situation is likewise grim for women with incomes in the lower and lower-middle brackets. Majority of them belong to the garment industry and are expected to lose their jobs.

According to a recent report, in India, the figure representing the drop in employment for men was 17.6% greater than that of females. And although this number looks slightly favourable for women, the overall feeling is that men are more likely to be employed after the lockdowns. The same report indicated that women who were employed before the lockdowns are 23.5%  less likely to have jobs after lockdowns as compared to men. Moreover, male household heads are 11.3% more likely to be employed once the lockdown is over as opposed to women who were employed before lockdowns   

While the Government of India has actively promoted and carved out an economic stimulus for ‘ Atmanirbhar Bharat ’ and the Make in India initiative, some sectors do not receive benefits such as tax-breaks, employee protection programmes, subsidies etc. Since these sectors are more export-oriented, and with global trade and exports suffering at the hands of the pandemic, experts say that the women will face unemployment. 

If women and vulnerable societies are to weather the storm the centre must keep the marginalised as the beneficiaries of policies that attracts investments in productive sectors and injects liquidity into the economy. Not only should the policy framework include restoration of supply chains but also that of women employment and livelihood.

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