We started 2021 with social networks alerting us that the employment crisis was affecting mainly women. For example, a news item from the United States indicated that all 140,000 jobs lost during December 2020 were for women. Furthermore, the news reported that the only ones who had recovered jobs during that month had been men. Similarly, the newly elected first female vice president in US history, Kamala Harris, declared the mass exodus of women from the labor force a national emergency.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, data collected by the IDB’s COVID-19 Labor Observatory indicate that more than 30 million jobs were lost during the pandemic and that, as in the United States, women have lost more jobs than men and are taking longer to recover. There are several reasons behind this harsh reality. First, women are overrepresented in service sectors that require high physical proximity. Secondly, women in the region dedicate daily to unpaid care and domestic work three times the time that men dedicate to the same tasks. Before the COVID-19 health crisis, in the countries of the region for which data are available, women spent between 22 and 42 hours a week on domestic work and care activities. (ECLAC, 2020). Third, women face greater gaps in digital skills and use of technology, both critical conditions for recovering and improving the quality of employment.
Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, recently published the book COVID-19: The Great Reset. In this publication, he affirms that the pandemic is a turning point, and invites us to use this crisis as an opportunity to create a more resilient, stable, and equitable world. We must work to transform this crisis into an opportunity to articulate the necessary tools to improve and transform women’s employment.
How can we do it?
Improving the situation of women in the labor market will only be possible if we take a comprehensive approach. In the short term, time and resources must be invested in reopening childcare centers and schools safely. Likewise, it is necessary to ensure that vaccines are available and accessible to the entire population. These actions must be combined with changes that will impact the employment situation of women in the present and the future. At the IDB, we are focusing our work on three areas:
- Create incentives for companies that are committed to increasing and improving the employability and employment of women.
- Close gender gaps in the development of digital skills and other key competencies to access the jobs of the future, in areas such as sustainable energy, digital economy, green jobs, and silver economy.
- Implement regulations that improve the functioning of the labor market, including flexible work arrangements (such as teleworking and remote work), parental leave for men and women, and greater and better access to quality care services. Without the latter, mothers will continue to be forced to make unfair choices between working and staying home to care for children and the elderly.
Women and economic recovery
We end with an urgent and urgent call to action for the governments and companies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that the region would take 59 years to achieve gender equality in the workplace. With the slow recovery in women’s employment following COVID-19, it is foreseeable that it will take an even longer time to close the economic gender gaps. We need to act now. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be for women to rejoin the workforce, and our economies will not be able to fully recover without the equal participation of women and men.
* On Women’s month, we will talk about female employment in the region. Join the conversation by subscribing to our blog and following on us Twitter @BID_Igualdad.