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Is Coronavirus Proving To Be Worse For Women Than Men?

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The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the economic, social and political vulnerabilities of the developed as well as developing nations which are in turn deepening the pre-existing inequalities. The vulnerabilities are exponentially amplifying the impacts of the pandemic in a negative way. In recent times with the lockdown hampering the daily routine and schedules of millions of people across the world, women are facing issues worse than just the health hazards.

Even in normal situations, women earn less, save less, are employed more in the informal sector and hold less secure jobs. To worsen the situations, they have minimal access to social protection. Therefore, making them more vulnerable to economic shocks than men.

1.     DOMESTIC VIOLENCE-

The cases of domestic violence have seen a study rise as the women are locked down with their abusers, 24/7 round the clock. They are trapped as unpaid caregivers in families and communities without an escape.

The recent data released by the Gender Agency and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveals that most of the countries are certainly not doing enough to save women’s social and economic interests. Nearly 243 million women have experienced physical or sexual abuse over the last 12 months. In France, within one week of declaring a lockdown, the reports of domestic violence jumped up by 30%. A similar trend has been seen in several other countries as well.

 As per the analysis of the report, one-fifth of the 206 countries or 42 States have no gender-sensitive measures to protect the gender-specific interests in response to the pandemic. Out of all the countries surveyed only 25 have introduced apt policies to tackle the violence against women and girls. These countries have also supported unpaid care and looked after strengthening the economic security of women. Such measures include help lines, Shelters, provision of legal support to deal with the rise in domestic violence cases, paid sick leave, child care services as well as cash transfers directly targeted at women.

In report analysis of 135 countries, 704 measures have been identified which prevent or respond to the violence against women and girls (VAWG). Out of these 704 measures, 63% are focused and centric towards strengthening the essential services including helplines, Shelters and reporting systems.

However, on the negative side, only 48 countries of those analysed considered VAWG related services as a need of the hour and adequately funded these measures.

  1. ECONOMIC POSITION:

Nearly 740 million women are working in the informal sector. With the sectors closing down due to the pandemic, the jobs have disappeared. This has had catastrophic effects on the economic stability of women. The job response has been largely blind to women’s needs. Only 177 measures, in the 85 countries which were analysed, directly am at the economic security and stability of women.

The stats of labour participation are highly deceiving as they only reflect the changes in the formal/informal economy and not the dynamics of a parallel world which makes these markets function effectively.

Women are responsible for carrying out a majority of the unpaid work- raising children, cooking and looking after the old. This unpaid labour is the foundation brick of most economies.

The International Labour Organisation calculates that on average women perform 4 hours and 25 minutes of unpaid care work every day as against 1 hour and 23 minutes of work performed by men.

A report by mint says that the median women was putting in nearly 5 hours of housework every day while the median man put in only 90 minutes. But, as the lockdown period passed, this gap gradually decreased. By April, both men and women started spending more time on housework with the average gap between the two decreasing by 1 hour. This gap was driven by huge unemployed men contributing more to housework.

GLOBAL VARIATION

As per the reports, the intensity of gender-related problems varies highly across the studied countries. Europe leads the responses by addressing the issues of VAWG and unpaid care. It accounts for as much as 32 % of the total violence measures and 49% of all unpaid care measures. On the other hand, America has introduced the highest number of steps to strengthen the economic security of women, followed by Africa.

According to an analysis of the latest Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE)’s Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) data, at least four in ten women have become unemployed due to the pandemic. From March to April 2020, approximately 17 million women have been fired in both the formal and the informal sector.

More than 100 million men have lost their jobs in comparison to 17 million women in absolute terms. But when we talk about the relative impact, women are left worse off with 39% of them unemployed against 29% men. Before COVID-19, the recessions were either heavier on men or affected both the genders equally. Whereas, now the layoffs are way higher for women than men. Women unemployment has surpassed men’s unemployment by 2.9%.

Bick and Blandin (2020) report issued in August 2020 showed that the labour supply of women was 20% below the pre-COVID levels whereas that of men was only 9% lower. 

 Do we have any solid reasons for such a disproportionate impact?

There are two primary causes which can be identified:

  1. Women are employed more in sectors that are relatively stable during the normal course of business but were directly affected by the global lockdowns imposed to tackle the pandemic. Such sectors include ‘contact-intensive’ businesses like restaurants
  2. With the shutting down of schools and daycare centres the childcare responsibility on parents multiplied. Women have provided the majority of additional childcare during the crisis, which ultimately affected their work.

What harm can “shecession” do?

The impacts of the current recession are bound to have consequences that will outlast the recession itself.

  1. It will affect future earnings opportunities for women. It is proven that workers who get unemployed during a recession experience highly persistent earnings losses as finding a new job are tough while finding the one with the same set of responsibilities and duties is even harder.
  2. The average earnings of women in the economy will plunge and raise the gender pay gap will rise to new highs. The loss in women’s human capital will fully be made up only after decades.
  3. A decline in women’s employment has an impact on insurance within the family. Generally, women work as ‘shock absorbers’ families. this means that if a husband loses a job, his wife is often able to stabilise family income in a recession. But with this pandemic, the scope for insurance within the family is greatly reduced.

Therefore, it won’t be wrong to say that no previous recession/pandemic has affected one gender so much more aggressively than the other. 

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