How can women regain ground lost during the pandemic?

On the last International Women’s Day, world leaders from Europe to East Africa called for a covid-19 recovery effort that puts women and gender equality first. Yet my research for international organizations like UN Women shows that few governments have turned these aspirations into action.

Globally, economic lockdowns and downturns have particularly hurt jobs in sectors where women are disproportionately employed, such as manufacturing and service industries. School closures and the need for childcare and eldercare have also pushed women out of the labor market as they, more than men, have taken on the responsibility of homeschooling and chores. housewives.

Violence against women has also exploded, leading some experts to describe the ever-higher levels of gender-based violence as the “shadow pandemic”. And around the world, the pandemic has exacerbated women’s vulnerability to food insecurity and homelessness. Unsurprisingly, global data shows that the pandemic has increased anxiety and major depressive disorder in women more than in men.

A global push for a feminist recovery

All of these trends are reversible and there is no shortage of blueprints, toolkits or blueprints.

For defenders, a feminist pandemic recovery does more than help women catch up. After all, the pre-pandemic normal was not so good for women, who even then did more household chores than men and earned less money when working the same jobs.

Instead, a feminist economic recovery aims to eliminate the reasons why women are unequal in the first place. This means breaking the association between unpaid work and household chores by paying those who undertake care work, even when they are at home. Besides publicly funding dependent care, feminist plans share other goals, such as investing in jobs that pay living wages and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Lots of talk, little action

However, all these speeches and all these roadmaps have not changed much.

The failure of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan offers a textbook case. Biden promised a social infrastructure bill that would provide child care, free preschools and care for the elderly. Instead, it has been content with funding to rebuild physical infrastructure, which will mainly benefit sectors where 82% of jobs are held by men.

Globally, only 8% of countries’ economic stimulus packages have addressed unpaid care work. As a result, economies are rebounding, but the gains are concentrated among men. The International Labor Organization projected that by the end of 2021, male employment would return to 2019 levels, while female employment would lag far behind. Indeed, the United States created 467,000 jobs in January 2022, but only 188,000 of them went to women.

I have worked directly with UN Women to find out if and where feminist plans have influenced policy. We have identified only two notable cases where national governments have made changes consistent with these goals: Canada and Argentina.

Canada created a $100 million Feminist Response and Recovery Fund and allocated $21.5 billion for early learning and child care. Argentina has launched a new pension scheme that pays benefits to women caring for children and other dependents at home.

Elsewhere, I found innovations at the local level, such as Bogotá’s new district health care system. The SiDiCu (its Spanish acronym) will provide 30 care-related services at the neighborhood level, such as laundry, childcare and food banks. SiDiCu will also build respite centers for caregivers that will create space for rest, recreation, and access to other city programs. By transferring care tasks from households to the municipality, Bogotá aims to make care a public rather than a private good.

Emergency Response Don’t Last Long

It is true that national and local governments around the world protected vulnerable populations – including women – during the first months and years of the pandemic. Programs included prepaid debit cards, food and medical supply baskets, moratoriums on rent hikes and evictions, mortgage relief, temporary wage increases for frontline workers and grants and loans to small businesses. Since women make up a large, if not disproportionate, number of single parents, the elderly, the food insecure, the homeless and the poor, these measures have contributed to gender equality.

Yet these programs are largely on hold, and long-term economic stimulus measures are not filling the void.

Biden’s failure to pass social infrastructure is again illustrative. The bill died in part because Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) insisted on a work requirement for recipients of the child care tax credit. Other Democratic senators have countered that raising children is work, but for Manchin, paying it was alms.

Women are still absent as decision-makers

Manchin is not the only political leader to reject “women’s work”. Most politicians are men, the group that traditionally has not borne responsibility for domestic work.

Even today, women remain vastly underrepresented in policy-making. Women represent 26% of members of national parliaments and 36% of local deliberative assemblies worldwide. They represent 24% of the national task forces countries have convened to respond to and recover from COVID-19.

Not all women political leaders are feminists, but without a women’s perspective, economic and social policies will remain gender-blind – leaving women’s experiences unresolved.

As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, a few facts are worth remembering. Governments have data on how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. They know what political tools will solve the problem. What’s missing is action.

Jennifer M. Piscopo (@Jennpiscopo) is associate professor of politics and director of the Center for Research and Scholarship at Occidental College. His research on gender and the covid-19 response and recovery has been published in academic journals and in policy papers for UN Women and United Cities and Local Governments.

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