Opportunity to settle Gender Equality issue in the midst of crisis

For most women working from home right now during the pandemic, household chores and professional commitments flow into each other, leaving them with very little downtime, and more breakouts/ burnouts.

Ragini Das, Co-Founder of India-based Leap.Club, a powerful private network of rising women leaders, shares her views on how the present crisis is impacting the Gender Equality movement.

In what ways do you think that the lock down was equal and unequal when it comes to Gender Equality at work?

Social distancing and lock down measures have impacted nearly 81% of the world’s labour force. Across the world, women represent less than 40% of total employment but make up 57% of those working on a part-time basis, as per the International Labor Organization.

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic roll through economies, reducing employment opportunities and triggering layoffs, temporary workers (the majority of whom are women), are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of job losses. Additionally, the jobs most women work do not provide enough economic security for them and their families to weather this storm. With pay gaps as large as 35-40%, this becomes unsustainable. Earning less, saving less, and holding less stable jobs might reduce most women’s ability to absorb the economic aftershocks of these exceptional times.

Speaking for a country I live in – 60% of women in India between 15 and 60 years of age are engaged in full-time household work, while the current female labour force participation in the country stays at 25%. Unpaid care work is one of the major reasons for gender disparity in India and as per the latest report by Bain and Company, 60% of the work done by Indian women, is unpaid and unrecognised, while for men, the number is at 10%. What eventually happens as a result of this is that the burden of unpaid labour often ends up resulting in women dropping out of the workforce altogether.

According to you, how has this pandemic affected the course of the Gender Equality movement?

As social distancing due to Covid-19 forces both the genders to stay indoors, the home might as well become the most contested space for equal gender relations. Even in educated and modern households, women end up doing most of the domestic work, especially tasks that are repetitive, bone-breaking and time-consuming. The men usually offer to help with tasks like cleaning the car, doing the laundry or buying groceries. For most women working from home right now, household chores and professional commitments flow into each other, leaving them with very little downtime, and more breakouts/ burnouts. In my personal opinion, if the woman of the house ends up doing the majority of the domestic work at home, traditional gender roles will start to take shape again/ only intensify further.

In hindsight, the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue. It has come as a shocker to our societies and economies, and women are pretty much at the heart of care and response efforts underway. As front-line responders, health professionals, community volunteers and more, women are making critical contributions to address the outbreak every day.

Back home in Kerala, a state of 35 million people and one of the biggest Covid hubs when it all began, only four people were lost to the virus – all thanks to Ms KK Shailaja, the state health minister, and her very solid pre-emptive response team. Globally as well, women leaders continue to do a disproportionately great job at handling the pandemic well. Still wonder why we don’t have more of them 🙂

Global corporations are increasingly talking about allowing their employees to work from home. How do you think this will impact women?

I think the entire productivity in office v/s working from home stats are out there in front of us. And while these statistics may encourage both employees and employers to implement a work-from-home program (due to more reasons than one), I also think that with this new work-life integration setup, we’re all finding it slightly difficult to achieve that balance and satisfaction that we could earlier achieve working out of an office. Having said that, if done right, WFH is the future and here to stay. It, however, may or may not be the best situation for every employee and every business.

While we’re all curious and waiting to see what the numbers will look like eventually, it’s likely that women will see their jobs affected by the specific limitations and redundancies associated with the economic fallout of Covid-19, while more men will find their jobs protected or moved to a home office. Also potentially because of a larger, deep-rooted problem of gender disparity in the workforce.

But there’s another big factor at work. And it could make things more unequal, especially in the immediate term: children. More than 1 billion children around the world have been affected by school and daycare closures. This has resulted in a “sudden spike in childcare” that’s likely to be felt most by women. Even in double income households where both parents are working full-time, women tend to do more childcare — especially when the kids are young. Single parents (gender no bar), have it worse right now and are stretched more than usual.

Do you think this pandemic will test an organization’s resolve in achieving Gender Equality? Could you list down the opportunities and challenges for the same.

COVID-19 will impact the world of work in three major ways:

  • the number of jobs available
  • the quality of work (wages and access to social protection)
  • outsized effects on the most vulnerable employees (mostly women)

Now is our opportunity to take a stand for inclusivity by placing gender at the centre and here’s how we can ensure that happens:

  • Improved education and training opportunities for women;
  • Ensuring women’s representation and participation in all planning and decision making;
  • Flexible work arrangements and paid leaves for parents;
  • Condemn all forms of gender-based violence and harassment, including domestic violence at home, publicize and circulate the hotline number for victims of domestic violence.

Over and above, gender-responsive trade policies would open new opportunities to women as employees and entrepreneurs. We are exhausting our list of excuses when it comes to achieving gender equality at work and in general. As we stand in the middle of this historic inflection point, now is our moment to come together as a global community to close this gender gap once and for all – to establish a new, more inclusive world. After COVID-19, there will literally be no more excuses, and we can’t add more years to the 257 we already need to wait to attain gender parity at the workplace!