Covid-19 threw the world of work into a loop: as infection rates went up, the number of people in work went down. Women represent one of the groups that were the most affected by unemployment. Because of the pandemic and its impact, instead of gender equality progressing, it regressed. We went back to a world where women acted as primary caregivers and stayed at home instead of working, once again taking on the role of the housewife.
COVID-19 has resulted in the largest female-to-male gap in employment rates since 2000. We are going back in time.
We like to think of gender inequality as a thing of the past. As a matter of fact, it will take more than 10 years to get the gender unemployment gap back to what it was pre-Covid.
In this article, we look at some of the causes behind the ‘shecession’ and identify possible ways to combat it.
The rise in female unemployment
During February and April 2020, female unemployment rates increased by 12.8%, whereas men’s increased by 9.9%. And, while men’s unemployment rates mostly recovered, women’s didn’t.
Women are also leaving employment at shocking rates, with 865,000 women leaving the workforce in September alone – nearly four times more than the number of men who left. If you think that statistic is scary, then the next one will be the topping on the cake. The global number of women in employment is currently 13 million lower than in 2019, and reportedly it could’ve gone up by 2 million this year. But it’s not just a women’s problem – female unemployment negatively impacts everyone.
So why did this happen?
There are two main reasons for this. The first is the role women play in the care of their children and house.
Imagine a 1950’s household, the husband goes off to work while the wife stays home to take care of the household. Alison Lacey, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex School of Psychology believes that we have regressed to this time – and to be frank, I see it too.
One of the reasons for women leaving employment to stay at home has been the need to take up homeschooling when the schools closed during the lockdown. For many parents, it was impossible to maintain a working and childcare schedule so one had to give it up – often the mothers.
Before the pandemic, one in four women spent 9+ hours on childcare daily, and now it’s one in three.
Reportedly, women were nearly twice as likely to lose their job. The pandemic had the most negative impact on in-person service jobs such as waitressing, retail assistants, hairdressers, and the hospitality industry, which are predominately performed by women.
Who is affected by the ‘Shecession’?
The ‘shecession’ and the rise in female unemployment affect society as a whole. Research shows that centering women in recovering efforts could grow global GDP by an estimated $13 trillion (16%). When women thrive, so does everyone else.
Unemployment and its resulting financial problems are among the largest causes of stress in relationships, often resulting in breakup or divorce. The annual separation rate almost doubles when one partner is unemployed. One partner’s unemployment decreases both partners’ quality of life and has a harmful impact on the mental wellbeing of all parties involved.
How can society help?
One of the ways we can reduce female unemployment is to add the option of remote working to more job roles. Flexible working allows more women to work around their childcare responsibilities. For the longest time, society has given women one narrative – you can either be a mother or have a successful career. While both can be achieved today, flexible work can ensure that there is no choice to be made.
Society needs to give the opportunity back to women, and one way we can do this is to create them. Policies need to be adopted that address the key barriers for women in employment, such as ensuring sufficient maternity pay and leave, opportunities for entrepreneurship, access to women’s health services, and to more affordable childcare. Implementing cash transfer programs and providing childcare access could help over 100 million women out of poverty.