The economic downturn caused by the current pandemic, COVID-19, has substantial implications for women employment and gender equality.

‘Regular’ recessions/global crisis affect men’s employment more severely than women’s employment and subsequent gendered social norms, as was evident in the last economic recession of 2008-09. This is primarily because, in the regular economic crisis, the sectors predominantly affected are manufacturing, trade & transportation and construction which are heavily male-dominated, hence the severe and negative effect on the male workforce. 

However, in the present pandemic, the employment drop related to social distancing measures will factor on – 

  1. From the Employer Side 
  2. From the Household Side 

From the Employer Side 

The employment crisis will have a large impact on sectors which either don’t qualify as ‘critical’ or are not compliant with ‘telecommuting’, which automatically put the women workforce at the negative impact receiving end. 

  • Classifying occupations by whether they are critical in the current situation and in the recovery of the present situation, especially health care, put women workforce ahead in the losing battle. Of all health workers in the country, nearly two-thirds are men and 78% of the senior positions in the healthcare sector are occupied by men. Furthermore, other critical sectors like grocery clerks, critical transportation, logistics and delivery, also have a higher share of men. Hence, this channel suggests that, unlike in usual economic downturns, women will be less protected from employment loss during the downturn. 
  • In India itself, the telecommunicating sector has one of the lowest women workforce – 15 – 22%. Also, women in India, due to years of being subdued to the male breadwinner model, do not easily adapt to the changing work environment during the crisis, which again put women workforce at a weak position in the event of businesses remodelling their product line to telecommunication model. Conversely, more women will potentially face the loss of employment, which is the opposite of the pattern in normal economic downturns.

From the Household Side 

In addition, closures of schools and daycare centers have massively increased child care needs and duties, where women’s exposure is much higher than that of men. The effects of the crisis on working mothers are likely to be persistent in COVID recovery phase as the labour market would be on a shortage. 

Considering both these factors, COVID-19 pandemic will have a disproportionate negative effect on women, their employment opportunities and their financial autonomy. 

Despite this grey outlook, there are also counteracting forces that suggest avenues that will promote flexible work opportunities for the women workforce and gender equality during the COVID 19 recovery phase. 

  • Many businesses are currently adopting work-from-home and telecommuting options at a wide scale, investing further in remote working and technology advancement. It is likely that this work culture will persist. This will lead to more workplace flexibility for women workforce who are tied between workplace duties and household responsibilities.
  • There will also be a sizeable fraction of families where role models of caregiving will revere. Many fathers will now also shoulder additional child care and home-schooling responsibilities. In families, where women are employed in critical occupational sectors and men in ancillary sectors, will witness men inevitably turning into the main providers of child care in case of loss of employment. 

Hence, even while women carry a higher vulnerability during the crisis and the recovery phase, there is still a high probability that there will be a progressive and positive impact on social norms and gender equality.