COVID-19 has fueled a recession for women. BSR recommends six actions for companies to incorporate a gender lens on recovery efforts.
“Stronger engagement on gender equality is key to a sustainable global recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and building fairer, more inclusive, more prosperous societies. Women and girls are in the frontline of the pandemic and must be put in the driving seat of the recovery.”
In this statement, Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, stresses the vital importance on the role of women in both responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic recovery. Indeed, women will be key to the economic recovery from COVID-19, in part because they have been the hardest hit.
As early as April 2020, news investigations raised the alarm over the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and their economic prospects. As the months went on, the pandemic continued to spread, governments imposed lockdowns, schools stayed closed, and more workers lost their jobs—the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 grew into a full blown “she-cession” that companies cannot afford to ignore.
Women make up the majority of workers in “frontline” sectors, including retail, health, K-12 education, and paid care. Many of these workers are in precarious situations with inadequate health and safety measures, putting themselves and their families at risk. In other sectors, women have experienced higher levels of job losses, either being let go or leaving to manage childcare.
In the U.S., women account for 53.6 percent of overall net job losses since the beginning of the pandemic, with Black and Latina women facing even higher unemployment rates. In Europe, the job loss rate for women is 1.8 times greater than that of men. Low-income women and women in rural settings in Latin America are more likely to be unable to work or go out during the pandemic. Similar trends can be seen around the world in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and India.
COVID-19 is likely to have long-lasting impacts on women’s economic participation: the poverty rate among women in Europe is expected to go up by 1.9 percent. In the U.S., nearly 40 percent of unemployed women have been out of work for six months or longer. In addition, the jobs that are coming back are not going to women; this is true even in female-dominated sectors like retail, leisure, and hospitality.
Job losses are not the only negative impacts women face. In the U.S., France, and the U.K., incidents of domestic abuse increased by 25-36 percent following the first confinement. Globally, domestic violence is expected to soar by 20 percent globally during lockdowns.
What’s more, around 70 countries have reported issues delivering family planning services during the pandemic. Marie Stopes International, which provides family planning services in 37 countries, estimates that nearly two million fewer women received birth control services between January and June of 2020.
As governments and businesses begin to develop and enact plans for rebuilding, they need to incorporate an intentional gender lens on recovery efforts. Without this lens, we run the risk of undoing the decades of progress that we have made towards women’s economic empowerment and gender equality.
So far, both the European Union and the U.S. state of Hawaii have already decided to put women at the center of their recovery. This holds enormous potential to help families and communities rebuild, as women invest more in their children’s education and health and put more of their income back into their local community. Thus, targeted programs and policies, including paid leave, equal pay, addressing gender bias in hiring, and others that support gender equality and women’s empowerment, are more important than ever.
BSR believes the six actions listed below are steps companies can take to ensure a gender-responsive approach to building back better.
Later this year, the Generation Equality Forum will offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity for business, governments, and civil society organizations from across the globe to co-create an actionable roadmap to achieve gender equality by 2030.
The Forum will discuss the range of gender equality challenges laid bare by the pandemic, such as economic justice and technology for women and girls, as well as issues that remain critical to address, including climate justice and sexual and reproductive health. BSR, in collaboration with The B Team and Women Win/Win-Win Strategies, is excited to work with our members to catalyze meaningful commitments and action as part of this milestone gathering.
This article was previously featured on BSR.