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5th Jun 2020

Coronavirus

Women hit hardest by corona economic crisis

  • Care professionals are among the most underpaid jobs in the EU - while 76% of EU careworkers are female (Photo: Wikipedia)

Women will be disproportionately harder-hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus than men, which could further delay bridging the gender pay gap.

While women are overrepresented in fighting the pandemic, they will also suffer more severely from the social-economic crisis to follow, contrary to previous economic crises.

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"The corona crisis is female," Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner, who chairs the European parliament's committee on on women's rights and gender equality, told EUobserver,

"In hospitals, in nursing, at the supermarket checkouts, women fight in the front row against the disease," she said, adding: "At the same time, however, closures and layoffs are affecting more female sectors like tourism and retail."

In the EU, 76 percent of healthcare workers are women, according to data compiled by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

Caring professions are also among the most underpaid jobs in the EU.

The agency also pointed out that in other essential jobs, such as supermarket cashiers, women make up 82 percent of all cashiers in the EU.

"Our studies show that women are already more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment, receiving lower pay and weaker social protection," EIGE director Carlien Scheele told EUobserver.

"They also dominate many of the professions already hit by job losses and freezes as a result of the crisis," she added.

As people are forced to stay home, women's unpaid work also increases. Already before the outbreak, women in the EU spent 13 hours more than men every week on unpaid care and housework.

The burden is especially high on single parents. Women make up almost 85 percent of all single parents in the EU and almost half are already at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the EIGE warned.

Domestic violence has also spiked during the lockdowns across Europe, EIGE reports.

"The Covid-19 pandemic relentlessly discloses gender inequality in all its shapes and forms," Regner said.

"In that way, existing injustices are exacerbated at a rapid pace," she added.

Gender-fair bailouts

The EIGE argues for gender-fair bailouts, subsidies, adding that part-time, and flexible employment should have an adequate minimum wage and be eligible for social security.

Scheele warned that gender equality has not been achieved anywhere.

"Europe's slow but steady progress should not be undone by fiscal measures that ignore half the population," she said.

Scheele argued that "policymakers must measure the different impact the crisis is having on women and men to be able to design bailouts, subsidies and other economic recovery measures that protect everyone equally".

She argued that this could be the time for investments in the caring economy, as despite the nightly clapping around Europe, the pay and working conditions of these jobs do not reflect their civic importance.

Regner added that health and care services should reduce working hours with full wage compensation, have special assistance schemes for parents and single mothers, and unemployment benefits should be raised.

"Appreciation for typical women's jobs must continue after the crisis meaning better working conditions and higher salaries," Regner said.

"The Covid-19 pandemic proves that is now more important than ever to continue our work for pay transparency and closing the gender pay gap," the MEP argued.

Women on average earn 16 percent less per hour than men, and to change that might take even longer because of the crisis.

The Centre for Economic Policy Research, a London-based network of economists, also predicts that as more women lose jobs in the crisis, the pay gap will widen.

However, the CEPR economists also see reason for optimism on the longer term with many firms adopting work-from-home and telecommuting options for the first time, benefitting women.

They also see a possibility for a shift in social norms, which have preceded policy changes in the past, as the crisis forces more fathers, including managers and CEOs, to also joggle between childcare with work.

But for the right balance in mitigating the economic fallout on the long-term, changes will also need to happen in key positions.

"Women just need to be more represented at all levels of decision-making," Regner said.

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