Corona crisis can set women back decades, fear UK experts

May 31, 2020

LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating effect on gender equality and could set women back decades, experts have said on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act,...

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LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating effect on gender equality and could set women back decades, experts have said on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, foreign media reported on Saturday.

In a week during which it was revealed that women are bearing the brunt of extra childcare and housework and are losing jobs in greater numbers than men, campaigners, politicians and work experts said a dearth of female voices at the heart of government also risks putting 50 years of progress into reverse.

“In my view women’s workplace equality will have been set back decades by this crisis unless government intervenes to avert it,” said Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “We’re looking at the prospect of a two-tier workplace where men go back and women stay home. It’s taken us 20 years to get this far on female participation in the workforce, but it could take only months to unravel.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the CL Institute of Education found this week that mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit, and 14% were more likely to have been furloughed since the start of the crisis. Two sectors expected to be hardest hit in a post-COVID world are hospitality and retail, both of which employ significant numbers of female workers.

“Women started this crisis from a position of economic disadvantage,” said Dr Sara Reis, the head of research and policy at the UK Women’s Budget Group. “We’re worried the impact on women’s earnings and employment prospects will widen existing gender inequalities, not least the gender wage gap.”

A shift to flexible work patterns could create a more equal playing field for some working parents, said Smethers. “There’s no going back, the genie is out of the bottle,” she said.

But with data from the Resolution Foundation showing that only one in 10 lower earners are able to work from home, and 69% of low earners are women, it is not a panacea, said the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady. “Working women have led the fight against coronavirus, but millions of them are stuck in low paid and insecure jobs,” she said. “We need a reckoning on how we value and reward women’s work.”



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