Why the Gender Gap Really Matters?
Women make up fifty percent of the global population, yet they often struggle to achieve economic equality or even the same level of political freedom as men. And despite some progress over the last few decades towards female empowerment, the coronavirus pandemic has undone some of this progress. So why are women struggling more than men?
The gender gap describes the differences that men and women face in their daily lives, from finding a job and salary prospects to their intellectual and political prospects. In 2020, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, which measures differences in health, education, economics and politics between men and women, showed that while no country has achieved full gender parity, the top 3 countries: Iceland, Norway and Finland, have narrowed the divide. But the index also showed that countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Japan and Hungary have more work to do to ensure both genders have similar opportunities. And whilst there has been a clear narrowing of the divide in health and education, this index shows that women’s participation in politics and the economy still falls short.
Globally, women make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn for work of equal value. And the coronavirus pandemic is making life even more difficult for women. Although they make up just 39% of the global workforce, they represented 54% of the overall job losses as of May.
This contrasts with previous recessions which impacted male workers more severely. But traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing have continued to operate closer to their pre-pandemic levels while sectors which have a greater representation of women, such as hospitality and retail, have been hardest hit by the pandemic. In the U.S., women make up 52% of the hospitality workforce, but accounted for 54% of job losses in the sector in April 2020.
And despite accounting for only 48% of the retail workforce in the U.S., women made up 61% of job losses. Even in the education and health services sector, where women form the majority of employees, they accounted for 83% of job losses in the same period.
At the same time, stay-at-home orders in many countries have meant that children were unable to go to school as usual. This has increased the burden on women, who have had to juggle increased childcare responsibilities with their professional lives.
For women who are self-employed or working informally, such as domestic workers or street vendors, the challenges posed by the coronavirus shock are even greater because of the precariousness of their jobs. They are also more likely to find it difficult to access credit in order to rebuild their careers.
Even women who have kept their jobs have faced reduced prospects of promotion. One study has shown that 34% of men working remotely with kids at home were promoted, compared to only 9% of the women in the same situation.
Reduced gender equality could worsen the economic damage occurring across the globe. Without action, the COVID-19 induced gender gap could shave off a trillion dollars from global growth in 2030. This is because increased female participation in the labor force boosts productivity and increases wages for all workers.
A larger workforce also increases government tax revenues, which can then be invested back in infrastructure and medical care.
Allowing women the flexibility to choose their careers isn’t just preferable for those who gain the freedom to follow their interests, but it’s also beneficial for the wider economy as their skills can be deployed in appropriate jobs. That’s why institutions like the International Monetary Fund have called on governments to step up their support for female workers. These measures could include passing more favorable parental leave laws for both genders, subsidising childcare costs, and improving access to education.
The benefits of narrowing the gender gap reach everybody, not just women. Gender diverse companies are more likely to outperform their peers and more equal societies gain from higher economic and social development. In times of economic uncertainty, these advantages may be more valuable than ever.
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