Covid-19 crisis: How the pandemic is deepening gender inequalities
The social and humanitarian impacts of the economic crisis unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic are devastating, especially for people in the global south. As the UN recognises, the outbreak of Covid-19 “is deepening pre-existing inequalities”, including gender inequalities. Across every sphere of society and the economy, the health and socio-economic impacts have been greater for women and girls, especially those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination – for example, on the basis of income, race and/or ethnicity.
Around the world, women make up more than 70 per cent of workers in the health sector, including in care institutions. Women have been and still are on the frontline of the struggle against Covid-19. In addition, the Covid-19 crisis has had a severe impact on the nearly 44 million female domestic workers around the world, as well as on the tens of millions of poor rural women who rely on farming to earn a living and who face restrictions on accessing fields and maintaining their livelihoods. The lockdown measures still being imposed worldwide are also having a devastating impact on the 740 million women who work in the informal sector around the globe.
The pandemic offers an opportunity to acknowledge the critical role women play as pillars of the care economy. The global lockdown has increased appreciation of the often-invisible role that (mostly) women play at home, with activities such as taking care of the household, providing food, fuel and water, as well as taking care of the sick, infants and the elderly, etc.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, 16.4 billion hours were spent in unpaid care work every day around the world. More than two-thirds of those hours were performed by women. Post-pandemic the challenge will be to avoid paid and unpaid care work becoming invisible once again after lockdowns are lifted, deepening gender inequalities.
In terms of a feminist recovery, policy responses should not only recognise domestic work but should also look at redistributing unpaid domestic work and investing in the strengthening of the care economy. However, this is impossible without sufficient financing for gender-responsive public services and without enough resources for universal social protection programmes.
The increasing public debt, which was already at unprecedented levels before the Covid-19 crisis took hold, is pushing governments in the global south to earmark a growing share of their revenue to help repay their debts. As a result, millions of people have been and will be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of 2021. According to UN Women, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women. This figure is expected to increase to 121 by 2030.
Gender blind policy responses, also at the macroeconomic level, will only reinforce pre-existing gender inequalities, particularly those aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Feminist macro-economic responses to the Covid-19 crisis
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has suggested regarding this crisis as “an opportunity to use policies to reshape how we live and to build a world that is greener, smarter, and fairer”. This is an implicit recognition that the global economy and the financial system need a fundamental shift.
For Eurodad, this should be a feminist shift. A feminist response to the Covid-19 crisis should not be about pursuing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth per se, but should represent a profound transformation in the way we understand and achieve growth – shifting, as Professor Diane Elson proposes, from restoring growth as an objective to transforming growth.
This shift must not simply imply a “return to normal”, because “normal” was the problem. It is time to leave behind perspectives that value the wealth of a few and measure growth in macro indicators, over and above the well-being of the many, and that put profits over people. The solutions lie then in a “people and planet first” feminist approach, which aims to address the underlying systemic drivers of the crisis, including sources of inequalities.
Responses to the crisis should focus on structural changes that will allow us to build back better – meaning more equal, more caring, greener and cleaner economies in the future. This transformation should be partly based on refocusing finance, not only towards a global Green Deal, but also towards a “Care New Deal”. As well as promoting job creation in green industries, this would also allow the redistribution of care and domestic work, as well as the expansion of investments and job creation in quality public services and universal social protection programmes.
This transformation can only happen by resolving the renewed debt crisis, providing sufficient and adequate gender-sensitive development finance and delivering tax justice.
In part 2 of our blog series on Covid-19 and a feminist recovery, we look at the key elements to consider when designing and implementing policy responses to the Covid-19 socio-economic crisis from a feminist perspective.