COVID is Regressing Female Employment and Invisible Labour

As we have discovered since the onset of Covid-19, a worldwide pandemic transforms society into a microcosm subject to specific circumstances. These conditions direct a spotlight onto certain areas of daily life, illuminating the need for change. Gender equality is such an issue.

Historically, disasters and disease outbreaks have regressed female economic progress for years beyond the event. Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic is not limited to one country or continent, it is happening on a global scale. One year into this crisis, experts are sharing grave warnings regarding the current trajectory. Their data highlights the consequences for women, society, and the global economy.

Measuring the Impact of Disaster

Progress over the last few decades has caused a rise in female employment through both choice and necessity. Women currently make up 39% of the global workforce and many are mothers and grandmothers. Unlike the last global flu pandemic of the early 20th century, marriage and parenthood are no longer roadblocks to the desire or need for a career in the western world. However, these developments are now challenged by similar threats of that era.

In 2020 UN Women conducted Rapid Gender Assessment Surveys in 50 countries worldwide to determine the impact of covid-19. Deputy Director Anita Bhatia cautioned that 25 years of progress could be lost within just one year. Recent studies performed by the International Monetary Fund, McKinsey Global Institute and The Institute For Fiscal Studies have expressed similar warnings.

It is impossible to investigate the effects of the pandemic on female employment without examining systemic gender roles embedded into society. The McKinsey findings report that women account for 54% of global job loss from Covid despite representing a lower number of global jobs. A key reason found by each of these organisations is the additional invisible labour created by the virus.

Equality vs Traditional Gender Roles

Despite rising awareness and legislation established to protect equality, traditional gender roles in the home still prove resistant to change. Before the pandemic, unpaid domestic work and care were estimated at 16 billion hours a day globally. Studies by the International Labour Organisation showed that 75% of these hours were performed by women. The new data and drop in female employment imply these hours have increased dramatically. The International Monetary Fund has measured an additional global average of 2.7 hours per day.

Unpaid domestic labour, alternatively known as the care, or reproductive economy is a vital requirement for the function of society and propagation of the generational labour pool. Yet it is unrecognised by governments and unmeasured in official economic capacity. Thus considered ‘invisible work’ by those conducting it. A short online search will reveal an untold number of articles, social posts, videos, and memes expressing the prevalent disparities in domestic labour and emotional care. Running a home and parenting children represents physical, mental, and emotional labour, and this labour is constant.

The Impossible Compromise of Work vs Pandemic Responsibility

The harsh reality of pandemic life has heightened this situation. Many families have absorbed the care of vulnerable elderly relatives. School closures have meant additional parenting and overseeing homeschooling during the day. Many parents are now performing these activities whilst simultaneously working from home. Yet a UK survey conducted by the Institute For Fiscal Studies reports that mothers are bearing the greater burden. Mother’s paid hours have fallen by 20% and 47% of these paid hours are now split between work and domestic duties compared to 30% of men’s paid hours. The study also found that in cases where the father has lost his job, and the mother kept hers, the domestic work was split equally between parents instead of the unemployed father taking the majority.

These duties are adversely impacting female entrepreneurship. Time previously designated to building businesses has been consumed. Family technology may also now be repurposed for virtual schooling. The 17% disparity between fathers and mothers interrupted work hours suggest that fathers are occupying the home office space whilst mothers attempt to work in the same environment as the children.

Entrenched Bias and Gender Division

These employment issues are severely affecting women of colour and immigrants due to the added issue of entrenched racial biases. These women are subject to intersecting problems due to low paid work, higher participation in lockdown affected sectors, and work that cannot be conducted from home. In the United States, 54% of black women have reported financial insecurity or job loss, compared to 27% of white men. In developing countries, gender discrimination due to cultural norms and religious beliefs are often more prevalent. Leaving employment due to domestic labour and care expectations is increased during a health crisis, and female mortality rates are higher.

The gender division within industries is also a contributing factor. Women and men still cluster in different sectors, and women represent large numbers in those significantly affected by lockdown closure, such as food service, travel, retail, education, and the arts. Whether the industry split is a matter of embedded gender norms swaying choice and opportunity is lacking feasibly objective research. But Covid has demonstrated this divide is problematic during a health crisis.

Preventing International Consequences

The Covid spotlight illuminates that gender inequality is not simply an issue for women with dependents, or women working in specific sectors. Workforce diversity has been proven to correlate with economic growth. McKinsey estimates the global GDP growth by 2030 will be $1 trillion lower if these trends in female employment continue.

All of the studies conducted by these major organisations call for swift action from leaders and policymakers. Experts are calling for interventions to address unpaid domestic labour such as subsidising childcare, employment protections, income support, and developing educational infrastructure.

Recognising invisible labour and investing in these policies will aid sustainable economic recovery from covid-19, but gender narratives across society must also be re-evaluated and reformed at a leadership level. If we are to avoid a major regression to women’s economic success as the experts warn, crucial measures must be implemented to address unequal attitudes towards domestic responsibilities. Traditional family labour structures are no longer serving global societies, and the potential consequences for mental health, societal development, and the economy could be catastrophic.

Gemma Dodd

Gemma Dodd

Gemma Dodd is a Political Correspondent at Immigration News. She is invested in human rights and informing audiences about social injustice and positive global change.

Do you want to write for us? Read our guest post guidelines here!

Related Posts