Social and economic impact of pandemic ‘could undo gender equality progress'

According to a report, the biggest and most persistent gender gap was seen in employment.

The social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic threaten progress towards gender equality, a study suggests.

Research indicates women have experienced negative impacts to a greater extent than men.

According to the report, the biggest and most persistent gender gap was seen in employment, with 26% of women reporting loss of work compared with 20% of men globally in September 2021.

Women and girls across the world were also 1.21 times more likely to drop out of school and 1.23 times more likely to report an increase in gender-based violence than men and boys.

However, the study suggests the pandemic made existing inequalities worse rather than creating new ones.

It is further suggested that women have been worse hit by the economic impacts because they tend to disproportionately work in sectors that have been hardest hit, such as the hospitality industry or as domestic workers.

The researchers are calling on political and social leaders to introduce measures that focus on supporting girls and women returning to school, and ensuring women’s growth and empowerment in the coming years.

Senior author Professor Emmanuela Gakidou said: “This study provides the first comprehensive global evidence on gender disparities for a wide range of health-related, social, and economic indicators throughout the pandemic.

“The evidence suggests that Covid-19 has tended to exacerbate previously existing social and economic disparities rather than create new inequalities.

“Society is at a pivotal moment where investment in the empowerment of women and girls is critically needed to ensure that progress towards gender equality does not get stalled or reversed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We cannot let the social and economic fallouts from the pandemic continue into the post-Covid era.

“Action must be taken now to not only reverse the current disparities, but to further close the gaps present before the pandemic began.”

The researchers analysed publicly available data from 193 countries using surveys taken from March 2020 to September 2021 that reported on health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

They looked at gender inequalities for five categories – economic and work-related concerns, education, safety at home and in the community, vaccine hesitancy and uptake, and healthcare services.

Dr Luisa Flor, co-lead author of the study, said: “Economic impacts have affected women more than men in some countries because they tend to be employed disproportionately in sectors harder-hit by Covid-19, such as the hospitality industry or as domestic workers.

“Minority ethnic groups, immigrants, and women experiencing poverty are likely among the most severely impacted by the pandemic.

“Moreover, gendered social norms in many countries attribute household and childcare responsibilities preferentially to women and reduce their time and ability to engage in paid labour.”

The study found that women in every region were more likely than men to report forgoing paid employment to care for others, with the gender gap widening over time.

In March 2020 the ratio for women to men was 1.8 but by September 2021 this had increased to almost 2.4.

The largest gender gaps were observed in high-income countries, with women 1.10 times more likely to report caring for others, and in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia where women were 1.22 times more likely to report an increase in domestic work.

According to the study published in The Lancet, by September 2021 there was no significant difference in reported vaccine hesitancy between men and women globally, although regional variations did exist, particularly between high and low-income countries.

The research suggests that overall, the indirect impacts of Covid-19 varied greatly between different regions.

Sub-Saharan Africa had the most pronounced differences compared with global totals.

The authors acknowledge some limitations with the study, including that publicly available gender-disaggregated data is still limited for multiple aspects of health and wellbeing.

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