The pandemic recession is hurting women more than men, potentially undoing years of progress if lawmakers don’t step up efforts to improve conditions for women, economists at the International Monetary Fund warned Tuesday.
“The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to roll back gains in women’s economic opportunities, widening gender gaps that persist despite 30 years of progress,” said IMF officials led by managing director Kristalina Georgieva.
Unlike the 2008 recession, which some nicknamed the “man-cession,” job losses in this downturn are particularly acute in fields where women are disproportionately represented — especially those that rely on face-to-face interactions such as retail, tourism and hospitality.
In the United States, for example, women held more than half of leisure and hospitality jobs before the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists say it will take a long time until the sector is back to where it was before Covid-19 rendered much of its business model unfeasible in the face of social distancing measures.
The crisis’ impact on women is also being felt more at home, where they’re more likely to take on the added responsibilities of child care created by school and day care closures.
Even as the US economy is beginning to recover, experts predict it will take a long time for the labor market to return to its previous strength. And a delayed reopening or second lockdown could lead to jobs being lost yet again.
Home life upended
School and day care shutdowns have upended home life for millions, a situation that typically puts more strain on women than men, according to the IMF. Women are still far more likely to bear the brunt of housework and child care responsibilities, which could keep them from returning to work even after the economy reopens, the IMF said in its report. And the longer people are out of work, the harder it is for them to return to the job market.
Canada’s jobs report for May showed that fathers of children under the age of 6 were about three times more likely to have returned to work compared with mothers, the IMF said.
In developing countries, women are also more likely to work in the informal sector of the economy — working for cash rather than in a formal employment situation. This means less job security, fewer savings and no health benefits.
Past epidemics have shown that girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school, which leads to a permanent loss of human capital.
What governments can do
The IMF said the disproportionate impact on women can be mitigated, however, with specific policies.
“What is good for women is ultimately good for addressing income inequality, economic growth, and resilience,” the report said.
Lawmakers could extend unemployment assistance, or provide incentives to balance work and family care responsibilities, as well as offer access to health care and family planning, the IMF said.
Some countries are already implementing such policies. Various European nations, including Italy and Austria, have implemented a statutory right for leave for parents with children below a certain age, and France has expanded sick leave for parents affected by school closures.