Earlier this year, as I watched Kamala Harris take her oath of office to become the 49th Vice President of the United States, I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. I applauded the huge significance of what was happening in front of me – here was the first female, first black and first Asian American Vice-President preparing to make history. It was impossible to witness something so momentous without considering the many ways it could go on to impact the wider drive for gender equality in the future.
At the same time, I was so frustrated at the fact that a woman, assuming such a high-ranking position, is still so out of the ordinary in 2021. I am full of admiration for Ms Harris and the ground she has broken but I write this post feeling a little overwhelmed at the scale of the climb that still lies ahead in order for women to achieve true equality.
The issue of gender inequality is both wide-ranging and complex and refers to the unfair or unequal opportunities available to women, in many areas of life.
This male/female differentiation tends to be exhibited in different ways depending on the country in question, its societal norms, religious beliefs and cultural practices.
Gender Inequality Continues…in different ways….in different places….
Gender inequality can show up for women and girls in the denial of access to education, healthcare, voting rights, workplace opportunities, societal expectations and violence.
Over the course of this blog series we will cover each of these topics in detail. For this blog, we are focused on how gender inequality is being impacted by Covid….spoiler alert; it is exacerbating the already existing problems.
The Impact of Covid on Women
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a real threat to the progress made on gender equality to date worldwide. The widespread closure of offices, factories, schools and childcare facilities means millions of women have been reluctantly forced back into the home. Many of those women have subsequently been left with no choice but to leave the workforce, at the cost of their own work and ambition. These decisions were necessary as they needed to assume caregiving roles, looking after children or elderly or vulnerable parents.
Research from the Fawcett Institute recently found that one third of working mothers reported lost work or reduced hours due to caring for children during the pandemic. Alarmingly, this figure rose to 44% when it came to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) mothers.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
McKinsey has also released some new figures on the implications of the crisis for working women around the world. Though acknowledging that the pandemic has negatively impacted most people, regardless of gender, they found women’s livelihoods to be more vulnerable to its effects. Using data from the US and India, they estimated that female job loss rates due to Covid-19 are significantly higher than male job loss rates – 1.8 times higher to be exact, standing at 5.7 and 3.1 per cent respectively.
In the United States specifically, women made up 46 per cent of the workforce pre COVID-19. However, current data suggests that they make up 54 per cent of recorded job losses to date. There is a similar trend in India, with women comprising 20 per cent of the workforce before the pandemic but accounting for 23 per cent of overall job losses. McKinsey attribute this differentiation largely to the gendered nature of work across industries in both countries.
And It’s Not Just Impacting Women’s Jobs
Another report published last year by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had some particularly sobering findings in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on gender inequality worldwide. In short, they found that pandemics make existing inequalities a whole lot worse for women and girls. The report noted, in particular, the threat of increased violence as a result of greater tensions the home and the neglect of sexual and reproductive healthcare during such times of crisis. It is clear, therefore, that the implications of all this are potentially life threatening, particularly in less developed countries.
A Shared Duty
Those who know me know that I am not one to sugar-coat things.
The truth is that much work needs to be done as we move forward post-Covid. We must ensure that not only do we regain the gender equality progress which had been already made but also continue to work towards moving closer to true gender equality. And that is something we all have a role to play in, regardless of our gender.
P.S: I have written previously here about some of the huge societal moves towards achieving gender equality I have witnessed already in my lifetime. There have been many of them and I am hopeful that we can look forward to many more changes to come.