Week of 29 June 2020
Women workers are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more likely to work in sectors severely affected economically as well as the health and social work sector, and they suffer from unequal distribution of family care and increases in domestic violence; there are risks of regressing on gender equality (ILO)
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its latest ILO Monitor on COVID-19 and the world of work. The ILO identifies 4 ways that women workers are disproportionately affected by the crisis:
- A large proportion of women work in sectors severely affected by the crisis: Around 40% of all employed women globally work in “hard-hit sectors,” which the ILO defines as including accommodation and food services; wholesale and retail trade; real estate, business and administrative activities; and manufacturing. By contrast, 36.6% of employed men work in hard-hit sectors; the gender gap is even larger in certain regions, particularly Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Europe and South America. Informal women workers in the hard-hit sectors are most vulnerable as a result of the crisis; 42% of women work in these sectors globally, compared by 32% of men.
- Women domestic workers are highly vulnerable to containment measures: The ILO estimates that 72.3% of domestic workers globally (the majority of whom are women) “were at significant risk of losing their jobs and incomes as a result of the lockdown and the lack of effective social security coverage.” In many regions, domestic workers are often migrants already at risk of marginalization and exploitation; the pandemic exacerbates this vulnerability both because migrant workers may lack social protections in their destination country and because they may be barred from returning home due to travel restrictions.
- The majority of workers in the health and social work sector are women: Globally, 70% of health and social work employees are women, and in some developed regions this number rises to 80%. The ILO reports that women in these jobs are often in lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs, which are subject to high gender pay gaps. Healthcare workers on the frontlines of the crisis are exposed to the highest risks of illness, in addition to working long hours and in emotionally and physically stressful conditions.
- Unequal distribution of family care at home disproportionately impacts women: According to the ILO, in “normal times women provide around three quarters of all unpaid care work,” an amount that increases with children or ill family members in the household. The closures of external childcare centers puts added pressure on women, who may also be working normal hours on-site or remotely. The ILO cites a recent European online survey wherein “10.6 per cent of female respondents (aged 35 to 49) reported that, during the crisis, family responsibilities prevented them (always or most of the time) from devoting the required time to their jobs, compared with 6.7 per cent of male respondents.” The risk of domestic violence is also heightened according to the ILO.
The ILO reports that the added stressors on women workers, in addition to higher unemployment rates for women overall since the onset of the pandemic, could “undo some of the gains in gender equality in the labour market and exacerbate disparities.” As more women lose their jobs, engagement in unpaid care increases; further, when the job market is tight, women are less likely to receive the same job opportunities as men.
The ILO provides a number of recommendations to governments to tackle this, which include supporting vulnerable and hard-hit groups, and generating fairer labour market outcomes, as well as strengthening social dialogue and respect for rights at work.