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Defending gender equality during the pandemic

8 March, 2021The health and economic crisis brought on by Covid-19 risks exacerbating gender inequalities, and narrow gains made risk being lost. Trade unions need to take action.

ILO studies show that during previous crises, when women lose their jobs, their engagement in unpaid care work increases. When jobs are scarce, women are often denied job opportunities available to men. The bigger their losses in employment during the lockdown phase and the greater the scarcity of jobs in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, the harder it will be for women’s employment to recover.

Globally, women have been harder hit by unemployment than men. In 2020, the loss of employment for women stands at five per cent, versus 3.9 per cent for men. Almost 40 per cent of all employed women, work in hard-hit sectors, including the garment sector.

The unequal distribution of increased care demands during the crisis has disproportionately affected women, who normally provide around three quarters of all unpaid care work. The pandemic has brought closures of childcare and schools, which, coupled with older relatives unable to provide support, has exacerbated care demands.

Governments need to tailor policy responses to the current crisis to ensure that women will not be left behind, as general support will not automatically reach them. Trade unions have an important role to play to ensure that women are supported to get decent work, and do not suffer long-term “scarring effects”.

Gender-responsive responses to the crisis

A gender sensitive monitoring of unemployment, access to social protection, reduction of working time and gender pay gap, is key for the design and implementation of inclusive responses to the crisis. Access to gender disaggregated data on the impact of the Covid outbreak on all these issues is fundamental.

Unions need to ensure that company responses to Covid-19 do not place an unequal burden on women, as well as looking at whether if measures taken to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 and protect workers’ health have not instead contributed to increased gender discrimination.  Have women workers been penalized as they have had to deal with an increased unpaid burden at home, or because the employer has adopted less family-friendly working times to avoid rush hours?

UNITE UK have put together a guide on how to the assess the impact on gender equality and a checklist for trade union action.

Maternity protection and Covid-19

Trade unions need to ensure that maternity rights are protected while the women are on leave, that their pay rights are not undermined through the impact of Covid-19, and that their right to return to work remains.

Gender-responsive occupational health and safety measures

In order to make sure that the workplace is safe for all workers, trade unions need to ensure that women are involved in evaluating the risks involved with Covid-19 and in developing health and safety policies.

When executing, updating and implementing risk assessments, employers and health and safety officers should consider the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on specific groups, including employees living with/caring for the vulnerable, pregnant workers, as well as workers suffering from domestic abuse and put measures mitigating the risks in place.

Trade unions should ensure that women workers get suitable PPE, not designed to fit only to tall men.

Domestic violence has increased during the pandemic, exacerbated by lockdowns and economic pressure. Trade unions need to take action to address the impacts of domestic violence, and support worker victims/survivors.

“The unions response must be rooted in the fight against gender discrimination. Unions must continue to challenge gender stereotypes and social norms that limit women’s access to labour markets and quality jobs and contribute to gender segregation.”

This crisis has shown the urgent need to end the gender pay gap, to re-evaluate female-dominated occupations or sectors and establish a gender-responsive social protection for all workers,”

says Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.