Beyond the appalling numbers of domestic violence cases that are gaining visibility, what also has caught the attention of many is how across the globe, the six countries that demonstrated the greatest ability in responding to COVID-19 - Germany, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Belgium and Iceland - all had one thing in common - women leadership. Yet, the reality closer to many homes is this:
Child: Mom, I am hungry.
Husband: What’s for dinner?
After 10 hours of office work on the laptop, 3 hours of household chores; waking up before the entire family to accommodate both home and work with no time for herself, yet not compromising on efforts for either, and despite being told:
- She isn't present for her child
- She isn’t looking after the house, a house shared by her and her partner (who in majority of the cases if not all, believes it is not his job to look after the house or the child or well, the kitchen) at the least, in the company of a child or two, parents or in-laws
- Being accused by family for not being there for them, and by colleagues for not participating enough in workplace catch-ups
- Told by her partner that her income will not run the household
- Beaten up by her partner because..well any reason that the partner finds reason enough really
- No help for household chores
- Innumerable accusations of a whole variety of nature
After all the above, with a smile on her face, the mother, the wife, the daughter, the daughter-in-law, the sister replies - “What would you like to eat? Let me make that for you.” In a recent blog, CARE International’s Secretary-General, Sofia Sprechmann said, “The longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be equal for women and men. We are currently experiencing the biggest setback in gender equality for a generation.”
The example shared above is just an everyday example of what happens at homes across the globe, in a majority of households, if not all. We are well aware of what has been happening at the workplace, which is why global initiatives were put in place to bring about gender equity, gender equality and also the aspirational hope of gender pay parity. However, the three biggest concern areas for women today, amplified by the consequences of COVID-19 are:
- Economic and workplace setback
- Health and safety
Let’s find out what’s happening across these segments and how we can work towards repairing the damage.
Economic and workplace setback
In 2019, months away from the global crisis triggered by COVID-19, the World Economic Forum predicted it would take 257 years to reach economic parity between women and men. As astounding as the pre-COVID estimate is, what’s more devastating is that the emerging circumstances have caused this figure to increase much more, taking away years of progress in achieving, rather establishing the ground and pace for equity, putting not just the current generation, but those that are yet to come at a significant disadvantage.
The global gender pay gap is stuck at 16 percent, with women paid up to 35 percent less than men in some countries. Statistics reveal that on average, women spend 4.1 hours per day on unpaid care and domestic work, men spend 1.7 hours a day. When women’s contribution to all kinds of care is considered, the value stands at $11 Tn. That’s not it. In a market scenario where men and women play identical roles in labor markets, an additional influx of $28 Tn could be gained in the 2025 global annual GDP.
According to UN Women’s latest policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women, “From past experience and emerging data, it is possible to project that the impact of the COVID-19 global recession will result in a prolonged dip in women’s incomes and labor force participation, with compounded impacts for women already living in poverty.”
Health and safety
Looking at unpaid care work, in addition to conventional industries like services, healthcare, hospitality, the number of women that are at risk every single day, being exposed to COVID-19 by the nature of their work, would be beyond comprehension, however, here are some findings:
- 77 percent of the NHS workforce in the UK and the majority of informal carers are women
- Beyond UK, an analysis of 104 countries revealed that women form 70 percent of the employee base in the health and social sectors, and 50 percent of unpaid carers
- Out of 7,329 healthcare workers infected by COVID-19 in Spain, 72 percent were women and 28 percent men
- Out of 10,657 healthcare workers infected by COVID-19 in Italy, 66 percent were women and 34 percent men
Amid business crisis, while D&I initiatives might have taken a backseat, it might take longer for leaders to realize the impact of the global pandemic on the home environment of employees.
In the duration 4th March - 23rd March, the National Commission for Women in India received over 123 complaints of domestic violence and 370 calls. The number goes upwards if we consider the global numbers on domestic violence. A New York Times reporter brought out many such cases across China, Spain, Britain, highlighting what experts now call - ‘intimate terrorism’.
Education is the way out of ignorance, to breakthrough years of patriarchy and misguided beliefs on the role of women in society. Yet, another dent in the global battle to uplift women has been on education.
According to UNESCO, 89 percent of students globally, representing 1.54 billion children, including nearly 743 million girls, are currently out of school due to COVID-19 closures. In reference to these statistics, an article co-authored by Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO, Plan International and Stefania Giannini, Assistant Deputy Director, UNESCO, stated, “Over 111 million of these girls are living in the world’s least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle. These are contexts of extreme poverty, economic vulnerability and crisis where gender disparities in education are highest”
The article also highlighted that in the Global South, where limited social protection measures are in place, “economic hardships caused by the crisis will have spill-over effects as families consider the financial and opportunity costs of educating their daughters.”
How different or similar were the circumstances of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, France’s Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin vs those countless women who continue to be belittled, exploited, abused and “shown their place” because they are “women”? History is witness to the fact that when women put their foot down, no one can stop them, yet there are eventual boundaries that curtail their growth.
We all have come across women in our lives who were brave enough to voice their opinions and shut out the noise that held them back. While some could do it all on their own, some needed a little push, and the magnificent economic disparities cause a majority to require social, legal, financial backing as well as monumental changes to colonial beliefs and values that confine them to the four walls of a house, or the confinement of a glass ceiling, also distant from well-deserved paychecks, keep them from being able to realize and actualize their potential.
If we are to reshape the future and improve the present circumstances, here are some immediate actions that we can consider:
- Women, please say no: Change begins at home. While women have been abiding by age-old expectations both at home as well as at the workplace, it is time for them to say no. No to tasks and demands that question their commitment, proficiency or put their well-being at risk, be it at home or at work. Women need to draw a line and begin saying no to demands, chores and work imposed on them due to their gender.
- Supporting women-led businesses: Only 25 percent of women seek business financing in comparison to 33.3 percent men, yet, women receive an average loan size of $38,942 vs men receiving an average loan size of $43,916 - a difference of $5,000. Women have it in them to lead nations out of crisis; one can only make a wild guess on the number of such mini nations that women can build and lead, given the opportunity and means.
- Amplify STEM initiatives: Demand for online schooling and tutoring has led to a boost for STEM avenues. This comes as a great opportunity to counter the impact of COVID on education for young girls, by providing opportunities and tieing-up with associations, NGOs and corporates at the local level to ensure learning does not stop.
- Organizational governance on safety: Organizations need to strengthen their focus and broaden the scope of employee safety through educating, sensitizing and equipping the workforce with the knowledge, tools and access to resources to protect themselves. Provide access to dedicated 24*7 helplines, legal aid and resources on shelter homes to employees, and where possible extend such provisions beyond the organization, to help the vulnerable with basic provisions to defend themselves against violence and abuse.
Amid crisis, while D&I initiatives might have taken a backseat, it might take longer for leaders to realize the impact of the global pandemic on the home environment of employees
The pandemic has caused significant large-scale setbacks for women, both in workplace opportunities as well as personal safety. Nonetheless, the commitment to get back up, banking on the learnings of yesterday and pushing back against everything that holds them back, rebooting through crisis and surviving chaos, the existing generation shall usher in an era of strength and courage, defeating all the voices that mock their ability to become much more than what is expected of them.