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Feminism X COVID-19

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Written by Sophie Block and Shreya Datta

The pandemic has, without question, affected every aspect of everyone’s life. Children’s normal way of life and learning has been upended, and the same goes for adults. Poverty levels have risen around the world, and, exacerbating this; working women have been disproportionately affected. Coined by the New York Times as a “SHEcession”, the pandemic is threatening to whip out years of progress of women in the workforce.

In September 2020, an eye-popping 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce - a number four times more than men. This comes in stark contrast to the milestone achievement that women achieved for a brief period of three months through February in the US, where the number of women in the workforce even overtook men. While these numbers may seem insignificant, the scars can be lasting. According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, an employment gap of just one year leads to a 39% decrease in annual earnings and that increases over time. Why, though, are women affected so much more than men, and what is the true cost of these losses?

According to the BBC, women’s job losses due to Covid-19 in the UK are 1.8 times greater than men’s. In March, 1.47 billion students were working from home. Many parents were sent to work from home in March, too. However, many were still expected to do their jobs, and were left with no child care services at hand. This disproportionately affected lower income workers, many of whom are front line workers in grocery stores and other essential workplaces. Due to the apparent lack of disposable income necessary to hire caretakers to stay home with their children, one of the parents had to quit

their jobs- which in most families across the world, was the woman. Moreover, one-sixth of all jobs held by women disappeared in February and March, according to Statistics Canada, while the Royal Bank of Canada found that nearly half of all women in Canada experienced a decline in the number of hours they worked during the early days of the pandemic.

In July, it was shown that 1.5 million Canadian women lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic and women accounted for about 45 per cent of the decline in hours worked over the downturn. In Canada single mothers with a toddler or school-going child saw their employment drop 12 per cent between February and June, which clearly differs from the 7 per cent decrease for single fathers. In Canada, although employment for parents was near pre-Covid levels by September 2020, 70% more mothers, in contrast with only 24% for fathers, were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020. According to the survey of September 2020 in Canada, which was released Thursday and is based on a representative sample of 1,002 adult Canadians, 33 percent of Canadian women have considered leaving their jobs for that reason, versus 19 per cent of Canadian men.

In the US, these figures are similar. In October 2020, it was reported that since February, the number of Hispanic women in the U.S. labour force has fallen nearly 7%, the number of Black women declined 5.6%, and the number of white women by nearly 3%. In April, the Center for American Progress estimated that as many as 4.5 million child care slots could be permanently lost due to the pandemic in the US. The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and Morning Consult found that more than 70 percent of parents of children under the age of 5 report their child care provider is closed or operating with limited hours or space. Half of the parents surveyed who sought child care for their young children during COVID-19 found it much harder to find quality child care than before the pandemic. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey collected between April 23, 2020, and August 31, 2020, found that, on average, 10 percent of working mothers reported not working each week because they were providing care to a child who was not in school or child care.

The question must be asked: why doesn’t domestic labour deserve a pay check? While those who are unemployed do receive benefits, parents staying at home do not get anywhere near the amount of money for staying home and taking care of their children that they would get if they were working at a job. Many would argue that taking care of a child, cooking and cleaning is enough to receive money. In fact, daycares, cleaning services and nannies do receive money for this work. But, daycares, cleaning services and nannies do it in place of parents, not for their own families. And these services get paid by parents. But for those who cannot afford these services, or during COVID, when many are not available, parents have taken on the work, and no one is sure who should pay them. Most obviously, the government comes to mind; while they do provide benefits, many countries don’t have the budget or income for their government to pay stay at home moms.

Now, when looking at why the majority of women become the designated stay-at-home or child-care worker, more than just traditional roles of women are the cause. Another reason? The gender-wage gap. In the US, men earn 92 cents more than women to the dollar. In addition to this, 12 percent of Americans make more than $100,000 per year, but only 27 percent of them are women. When a child has to stay home, and both parents normally work, but one makes more money than the other, it isn’t hard to make a decision; the one who gets paid less shall be the one who takes leave. Throughout history, and still today, this means that women are the ones who don’t work.

The pandemic has forced us to take a moment and observe our surroundings. For the idle rich and the billionaires this meant more time to relax and for “self care”, however the picture isn’t this pretty for everyone. Situations at home are not ideal for everyone; the Shadow Pandemic movement by the United Nations Women’s agency proved it. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, emerging data and reports from the front lines have shown that violence against women, especially domestic violence, has intensified. In India, between March 25 and May 31, 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years. However, the devastating part of the issue is that most of these cases are not reported, and only a small fraction are. India has taken steps to flatten the curve by introducing helplines. There is a global domestic violence sign that has been introduced for women, men and non-binary people to let their loved ones know about the abuse that they are being subjected to.

An article released by the Guardian in May, 2020, stated that experts had stated that the pandemic will set women back decades and have a devastating effect on gender equality. The prospect of a two-tier workplace where men go back and women stay at home is slowly gnawing its way back into society. Two decades worth of work including women into the workplace can be unraveled in a few months. Women will face the brunt of various issues including a rising pay gap and discrimination during pregnancy. Some pregnant health care workers have complained of being laid off or even being forced into working during the pandemic, putting two lives at risk. The Fawcett Society is a membership charity in the United Kingdom which campaigns for women's rights. Experts also predict a childcare crisis, and the Fawcett Society estimates that 150,000 providers could go out of business. Given that 97% of the childcare workforce are female, it risks being a double hit, said Neil Leitch, the chief executive of the Early Years Alliance. “The early years sector was already operating on a hand to mouth basis after years of inadequate government funding,” he said. “The fear is that many providers will close their doors permanently.”

This pandemic has threatened so much, and we cannot allow women’s progress in the workplace to be reversed. Whether it requires assistance from the government, a new mindset from those who lead offices or any other creative way to keep women from losing so much, something needs to be done. Everyone should appreciate women’s sacrifices and do what they can to improve the conditions for the women in their lives.

Illustrated by Jeia So


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