Valeria Esquivel is Senior Employment Policies and Gender Officer, Employment, Labour Markets and Youth Branch, International Labour Organization (ILO)
The pandemic is disproportionately affecting women workers. Governments should prioritize policies that offset the effects the COVID-19 crisis is having on their jobs.
I am a feminist economist. My job is to examine how the inequalities between women and men are part and parcel of the functioning of labour markets, and to assist our constituents in implementing what we call “gender-responsive” employment policies – i.e., macroeconomic, sectoral and labour market policies that explicitly contribute to gender equality.
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis large numbers of women were excluded from the labour market. The pandemic has made things much worse.
It is disproportionately affecting women workers who are losing their jobs at a greater speed than men. More women than men work in sectors that have been hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic, such as tourism, hospitality and the garment sector. Large numbers of domestic workers, most of whom are women, are also at risk of losing their jobs. The vast majority of health workers are women, which raises the risk of them catching the virus.
Moreover, the fragility of their employment situation, coupled with reduced access to labour and social protection have meant that women have found they are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, even in sectors which, until now, have experienced less disruption.
One of the ideas at the core of feminist economics is that the unpaid care work that takes place in households and families to support everyday life is a vital part of the economic system. This type of work is primarily carried out by women and most of the time is not recognized as such. School closures and caring for those who become sick, has forced women lucky enough to remain in employment to cut down on paid working hours or to extend total working hours (paid and unpaid) to unsustainable levels.
Here are five ways to ensure that women’s job prospects are not damaged long-term by the COVID-19 crisis:
- Prevent women from losing their jobs by implementing policies that keep them in work, as women have a harder time than men in getting back to paid work once crises have past. By compensating for wage losses caused by the temporary reduction in working hours or the suspension of work, these policies can help maintain women workers in their jobs, and safeguard their skills.
- Help women find new jobs if they’ve lost them: Public Employment Services (PES), that connect jobseekers with employers, can help women find jobs in essential production and services. At the local level, they can speed up job placement in sectors that are recruiting amidst the pandemic
- Avoid cutting subsidies: Expenditure cuts in public services have a disproportionate effect on women and children. That’s why it’s so important to avoid cuts in health and education budgets, wages and pensions. Past crises have shown that when support for employment and social protection are at the core of stimulus packages, they help stabilize household incomes and lead to a speedier recovery.
- Invest in care: Care services have the potential to generate decent jobs, particularly for women. This crisis has highlighted the often difficult and undervalued work of care workers, whose contribution has been, and remains, essential to overcoming the pandemic. Improving their working conditions will have a significant impact on many women workers, given the large numbers who work in the care sector.
- Promote employment policies that focus on women: Governments need to pro-actively counterbalance the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women. From a broader perspective, macroeconomic stimulus packages must continue to support and create jobs for women. Policies should focus on hard-hit sectors that employ large numbers of women, along with measures that help close women’s skill gaps and contribute to removing practical barriers to entry.