The recent report on the gendered economic impact of COVID-19 published by the UK Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee found that the economic impact of coronavirus has affected men and women differently. It highlights that pre-existing gendered economic inequalities, the over-representation of women in some sectors and the actions taken by Government (or the lack of them), have widened these differences.
The report concludes that the childcare sector is one of the most overlooked sectors by the Government and emphasises that there was no mention of childcare in either the Summer Economic Statement or the Winter Economy Plan. A ‘chronic lack of investment’ has led to a long-standing fundamental struggle for adequate resources for the early years sector in times when a reliable and affordable childcare system is a prerequisite of a gender equal economy and a gender equal recovery from the pandemic. Government must review and revitalise this whole sector, given the importance of childcare provision for women’s participation in paid work, and the precarious financial position of the whole childcare sector.
Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, stated in an interview for the BBC that “policy decisions have repeatedly ignored the specific needs of women”, highlighting that society is currently witnessing “a generational roll-back in maternal employment” that will take decades to repair.
The Committee has put forward 37 recommendations, one of which is that the Government Equalities Office (GEO) must take a more proactive role in mainstreaming gender equality in policy development across all Government departments. Expected to be published this year, the Committee calls for the Government to publish the draft Employment Bill by the end of June 2021 and take into account the recommendations made in this report. More details can be found here.
Improving gender equality during and after the COVID-19 crisis in the European Union
A policy report published by the European Commission at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020 has already highlighted that as “normally” women perform a disproportionally large share of the unpaid work in most of the EU countries, there is a “great risk they will take up the major part of the increased responsibilities as well”.
In January 2021, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and proposed measures to protect women’s rights and enhance gender equality during and after the crisis. MEPs called on all EU 27 Member States to incorporate targeted action to improve gender equality in national recovery and resilience plans.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which monitors gender equality progress in the EU, emphasised that the sectors with the widest gender gaps include ‘power‘ and ‘time’. Deepened even more by Covid-19 with women taking more household tasks, women remain under-represented in decision-making and continue to do a disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work. Evidence shows that women have been more likely to suffer cuts in working hours, lose their jobs, or drop out of the labour market, because they are over-represented in those sectors hit harder by the pandemic.
Moving forward, a passive approach to gender equality is not enough
Facts and statistics have proven that gender equality progress has suffered significantly as a result of the pandemic, but when will governments act to rectify this? As Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said, a “passive approach to gender equality is not enough”. There is a strong and urgent need for governments to address Covid-19 inequality which will have long-term impacts for the whole of society. The post-virus recovery must consider all the equality differences and include a forward-looking strategy to reshape our society in a fully inclusive way that serves all citizens much more equally.
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