How Has COVID Impacted Gender Equality?

It’s a complex time for citizens and residents of the United States. The novel coronavirus has exposed some of the deepest fault lines in American culture. As the pandemic rages on, people of color are disproportionately impacted from a health perspective, and on the economic side, women are experiencing alarming effects.

For example, faced with childcare responsibilities, many are unable to work, limited in their ability to work, or struggling to balance working from home with supporting students in virtual learning – and this effect has been felt by women around the world.

Some life sciences experts are concerned that for women, recovery could take years – even decades. However, the news isn’t all bad. There are certain professional benefits for women who are working remotely, leading the pandemic response, and/or delivering services to those hardest hit by COVID-19. In other words, the impact COVID has had and continues to have on gender equality is mixed, and it may be some time before the full ramifications are clear.

Men and Women at Work

American women enjoy far more rights and freedoms than peers in certain parts of the world, but there is one area where US moms experience greater risk. Approximately 23 percent of US children under the age of 18 live with a single parent, which is more than three times higher than the global average of 7 percent.

Of those single-parent households, the vast majority are led by women – a full 80.4 percent as of 2015. That puts extra responsibilities on women, who must do more with less from a financial perspective. That says nothing of the childcare and household chores that fall squarely on a single mom’s shoulders.

This issue of leading single parent households makes the COVID-19 crisis particularly risky for women. One analysis estimates that women’s jobs are nearly twice as likely to be impacted by the pandemic worldwide. In the United States, women are being laid off at higher rates than men, and a surprising number – roughly two million – are considering leaving the workforce voluntarily due to sheer exhaustion from juggling personal caretaking responsibilities with their professional roles.

The potential financial effects of continued pressure on women is cause for significant concern. Researchers estimate that global GDP growth may be up to $1 trillion less in 2030 without contributions from impacted women.

It’s worth noting that research from World Economic Forum life sciences experts shows that COVID aside, the financial ramifications of disparity between men and women in the working world are staggering. One study suggests that if men and women were given identical opportunities in the labor market, the global GDP could be up to $28 trillion higher in 2025.

Other Effects of COVID-19 on Gender Equality

The news isn’t all bad when it comes to the impact of COVID on gender equality. Some professional women have found it easier to be heard in an exclusively virtual environment. That, added to pandemic-related reduction in social contact, offers an unexpected and welcome opportunity for women to experience full inclusion in professional relationships.

Women are also leading the way in terms of global pandemic recovery. They are guiding governments, organizations, and relief efforts in a manner that puts equity first. For example, heads of state in Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Slovakia, and Taiwan – all women – have been widely recognized for their success in responding to the crisis quickly and decisively while still showing compassion and transparency in their communications.

In her keynote address to Women Rise for All, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group Amina Mohammed said this:

Over the past months, people around the world have come to see what many of us already knew: women’s leadership makes a profound difference. The evidence has shown — in country after country — how governments led by women are more effective in flattening the curve and positioning for economic recovery.

One unexpected benefit the pandemic might bring is greater recognition and acceptance of the value women bring to the table.

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