The covid-19 pandemic hit first in Asia, then Europe, the United States, and is now rampant with Latin America. The gears of the economies were slowed down as the disease traveled to every corner of the world. But the economic impact was always greater for women than for men. And this, at least, for two strong reasons.
Unemployment exploded, jobs were destroyed everywhere. Everywhere, too, women were more hurt by it. A study by McKinsey & Company estimates that female employment is 1.8 times more vulnerable to crisis than male employment. Global participation of women in the workforce is 39%. But when we look at the recent job destruction, we found that 54% of the jobs lost were women.
The motive behind this is twofold. On the one hand, women participate more in some of the sectors hardest hit by the crisis, such as retail, gastronomy, recreation and hospitality. One sector whose activity has not fallen with the pandemic and where women are over-represented is health. But of course this over-representation also exposes them more to contagion. On the other hand, women tend to have more informal jobs, which are the most unprotected, particularly in situations such as this. This situation is aggravated in Latin America, whose Informality rates exceed the world average.
The second reason that the pandemic crisis hits more women is that it has multiplied unpaid work, and this falls more on them. More care for children and older adults, more housework, in practice means more burden for women. This uneven distribution is verified in all the continents. In Latin America, studies show that women are responsible on average for 73% of unpaid tasks, a percentage that varies between 67% in Brazil and 69% in Chile, and distributions of 79% (in Ecuador and Honduras) or even 86% (Guatemala).
Women participate more in some of the sectors hardest hit by the crisis, such as retail, gastronomy, recreation and hospitality
The covid-19 pandemic came to reinforce and deepen the inequality in which we lived. For this reason, it is being a regressive force on the gender agenda. But perhaps this revolutionized world holds within itself a key to change. Never before has a single phenomenon had such a transforming force, with such a vast and immediate scope. The emergence of the pandemic is an opportunity to bring this issue to the center of the public agenda. Because it is more necessary and hot than ever.
The gender agenda covers all public issues. The possible policy interventions are many and not exclusive. Tackling economic inequality is only part of the job ahead. But in times as recessive as we are going through, it has become urgent.
An unavoidable line of intervention is to level the responsibility for unpaid work. If we could get men and women to distribute it equally, many of the other inequalities would begin to balance. McKinsey & Company values unpaid work in the hands of women at $ 10 trillion, 13% of world GDP. No matter where you look at it, the subject is too important to relegate it.
We need to multiply nurseries, run by companies or governments, which in itself can boost the childcare industry. The pandemic has in fact intermingled time spent at work and family. Flexibility has turned against women. The employees respond from their homes to the demands of their superiors, assist their children with school tasks and keep their homes running. All at the same time. The fact that labor relations have adapted to the pandemic is an opportunity to think about how to put flexibility at the service of women and men, so that their overlapping interests come together, where paid and unpaid work compete for the same active hours of work. day.
What is good for gender equality is also good for the economy and society. In adverse times like those we live in, betting on more equality is walking towards the light that takes us out of our quarantines and leads us to a better world to come.
Marcelo Cabrol He is general manager of the IDB Social Sector.