Pandemic setback for women

Gabrielle Hosein -
Gabrielle Hosein -


THE RECENTLY released Global Gender Gap Report 2021 tracks gaps between women and men in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

Globally, the biggest gap is in political empowerment, where the report estimates it will take 145.5 years for women to attain equal numbers with men at parliamentary and ministerial levels. The economic gap is staggering, with the report estimating that it will take 267.6 years for women to have equal participation and opportunity to men across 156 countries.

In this bleak horizon, Caribbean rankings were better than expected. Overall, Barbados ranks 27th, TT 37th, Cuba and Jamaica come in just below at 39th and 40th, and Guyana and the Bahamas rank 53rd and 58th respectively. We are ahead of countries such as Singapore, Australia and Italy.

Broken down by category, it’s a little more complex. For example, TT ranks 68th in the world in economic opportunity and participation, and educational attainment. In both cases, we are trailing The Bahamas and Jamaica, which have higher ratios of women in senior positions and in the labour force. In Barbados, women’s income is about 86.8 per cent of that of men’s, higher than in TT.

We are ahead of both Jamaica (64th) and Barbados (50th) in terms of political empowerment, ranking 39th of 155 countries. In The Bahamas, less than 15 per cent of the lower-house seats and ministerial positions are held by women.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the ranks estimate women’s progress in relation to men. Where there is lower educational attainment among males, women’s low numbers will appear more equal, highlighting why feminists are wary of judging women’s progress by male equivalency rather than in broader terms of social and economic justice, and the State’s responsibility for advancing women’s rights.

The conclusion of the global report is that the pandemic has set women back. There has been a more severe impact on women’s employment (as there are less women in the labour market overall) and industries with higher participation of women were harder hit, leading to lower re-entry to employment. Women’s working hours were more greatly reduced and there’s been a decline of hiring women into leadership roles, partly because women have pulled back from leadership and promotions as well as from ambitious job-seeking across fields, and because they are a minority in growing industries related to data and computing.

Finally, as the report puts it, “a longer ‘double shift’ of paid and unpaid work in a context of school closures and limited availability of care services have contributed to an overall increase of stress, anxiety around job insecurity and difficulty in maintaining work-life balance among women with children.” Housework, childcare and elder care, still unequally undertaken by women, have intensified during the pandemic, contributing to wider labour force participation gaps and long-term effects on future earnings.

Higher numbers of women with children (54 per cent) than men with children (46 per cent) reported reduced productivity and increased work at unconventional hours such as very late nights and early mornings. Pandemic decisions to close child-care options (daycare centres, pre-schools and schools) have intensified women’s exit from the labour force and set back women’s economic empowerment globally, highlighting why care is an economic issue as much as a social one.

The report explicitly recommends investing in childcare options for parents, redressing the persistent insecurity of women’s income, proactively overcoming occupational segregation by gender in growing sectors, and addressing violence against women in the context of broader social safety nets. In other words, thinking about women as more than recipients of welfare or cash transfers, and understanding their right to a livelihood and to exercise leadership. Gender-sensitive workforce planning and gender parity are absolutely key to post-pandemic planning at this time.

At the very least, such planning should respond to the pandemic’s unequal impact on women's and men’s waged and unwaged work, and varied increases in unemployment across the sectors where women and men are predominantly employed.

These issues are insufficiently discussed by our economists. Often, commentary ignores how fiscal planning and economic stimuli, state cutbacks, including those to secure employment, cash transfers such as salary assistance, and policy decisions regarding the care economy reproduce persistent gender gaps in opportunity, attainment and empowerment.

I know for me, having Ziya home over this year has resulted in a step-down from leadership, exactly as described. Reports like these provide important hard data that should draw our attention to real women’s lives.

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 415


"Pandemic setback for women"

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