Pandemic catapulted gender equality into the past
6 January 2021
By: Berta Čaikauskaitė
From the public domain, it appears women received much attention in 2020: their leadership was notable as never before in the political domain, on the boards of public importance organisations, and leading positions. It seems that the long-awaited gender equality shift has indeed occurred, but the global pandemic and its consequences have unfortunately also struck a blow. It is disappointing to admit, but without making relevant decisions, in the long term, we will see the grim statistics of this new reality.
Women’s names brought up far more often
There is likely nobody who would be willing to argue against women demonstrating excellent results in 2020: women broke out into Lithuanian politics, and the Belarussian civic revolution was launched by women. The USA will also have its first female vice president in history, and a woman was elected the president of Moldova. This is not to mention the already active Finnish president and Danish Prime Minister, as well as the current prime minister of New Zealand. And turning to one of the oldest presidential institutes, that of the USA, we see another change: the president-elect’s wife Jill Biden is not content to simply be the first lady – she intends to continue working as a university lecturer.
All of these women are not only active in their respective countries and the international arena, but are also concurrently changing the previous understanding of a leader or institutional head. While contemporary society is a little softer in its reception of female leaders than it was a decade ago, women still take time to (or regrettably have to) prove the legitimacy of their strength, their professional knowledge, and their ability to combine motherhood and leadership. And when there is more and more courageous talk about the circumstances women face and the heights they have reached, the world was struck by the pandemic, one whose blows primarily impact women. This truth is not based on the prevailing view of the ‘weaker’ gender, it is based in numbers.
The pandemic strikes a retaliatory blow
Due to the coronavirus, women’s involvement in the labor market fluctuated massively. According to data from The Institute for Women’s Policy Research during February-March 2020, 60 per cent of all lost jobs belonged to women. According to Sodra (State Health Insurance) data, during the first lockdown in Lithuania, the number of women dismissed from work was 16 thousand more than were accepted, while by late June, 60 per cent more women than men lost their jobs. Of course, the situation was influenced by the health, service and tourism sectors suffering the most from the COVID-19 crisis and in them, statistically, women would hold more jobs.
That said, women who did retain stable jobs shifted to performing their duties remotely, but at the same time, compared to men, they faced increased workloads in household tasks and family care. According to data from the non-governmental organization CARE, during the pandemic, 55 per cent of women regularly perform household tasks, while at the same time men’s activity is only at 18 per cent. Furthermore, women are dedicating twice as much time to children and their remote learning. According to Sodra, during the first lockdown 80 thousand households took on temporary childcare leave, but 70 per cent were women.
Finally, the situation has once again irritated an old sore – domestic violence against women. Stress, the loss of income and reduced opportunities to make use of social services have only increased the risk of violence, and so according to the data of healthcare services and the police, the number of domestic violence victims rose several-fold during the first lockdown across most countries around the world. What statistics we will see with the second lockdown entering its halfway point, we can only make lamentable guesses about.
Mistakes need fixing in order to return to an equal jobs market
How should the situation be handled? How should the emerging difficulties be minimized already now? Who should take responsibility? Employers, the state, institutions, society? This is a complex problem, and so there is no single answer. Nevertheless, it is clear that we must resolve mistakes now, otherwise, women will long be viewed as lesser players on the jobs market.
Firstly, it is necessary to emphasize the question of gender equality literacy and the importance of education. This topic must appear at the core of communicated and implemented values, included in teaching programs, and receiving no less attention than other areas of teaching.
Furthermore, at this time it is critically important to encourage women and urge them to be unafraid to talk about their individual problems that emerge. This responsibility should fall not only on their circle of relatives but also on employers. They are not psychologists, but dedicating time to discuss not only work questions, but to the extent that the situation and ethics permit is already becoming an inevitable function of management and leadership. I believe that the pandemic situation has laid down the suitable groundwork for more open conversations with one’s network, and this will need to be further and suitably cultivated from now on.
Finally, expectations arise for the ruling coalition, which has in its power the formation of a functioning system to enable women to realistically and legally return from maternity leave to the jobs market when they are capable and willing. I agree that the question is multi-layered and the topic spans more than just legislation, but also the dismantling of paternal stereotypes that prevail in society. However, we cannot waste any more time and allow the scope of the problem to deepen. If we are unable to resolve it locally by employing only our own values and understanding, we can turn to other countries where such models function well, such as the USA or Scandinavia.
I am certain that the new year can be different, that it can bring fewer pain and more opportunities. Crisis situations always have two sides to them, and only time will tell which one has been highlighted more.