All these concerns turned out to be true. But the social damage caused by what has been called a “shadow pandemic” may be felt for decades to come. That is the dark conclusion of the annual bill report on the global gender gap announced this week by the World Economic Forum, which holds a “gender parity” index in 156 countries.
Based on its assessments in each country on four broad scales – ranging from women’s participation in politics and economics to access to health and education – the organization has previously predicted that gender parity is a century away. But the effect of the pandemic has now added a calculated 36 years, effectively spanning the second generation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has raised new barriers to building inclusive and prosperous economies and societies,” wrote Saadia Zahidi, Director of WEF, in the foreword to the report. “Pre-existing gender differences have exacerbated the crisis asymmetrically between men and women, even as women have been at the forefront of crisis management as key workers.”
Zahidi added that she hopes “that this report will serve as a call to action for leaders to set gender parity as a central goal of our policies and practices to manage recovery after a pandemic, for the benefit of our economy and our society.” Some solutions are known in developed countries, including significant government and private sector investment in care, as well as efforts to equalize access to care leave for both men and women in the workforce.
The pain is too real. The data suggest that some of the sectors hardest hit by stopping the pandemic were areas where women were more likely to be employed – including tourism and retail, as well as jobs in the informal sectors of developing countries. “Combined with the additional pressures of home care,” Zahidi wrote, “the crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries.”
In the United States alone, more than 2 million women left the workforce last year. And, according to research by the professional social networking network LinkedIn, women’s employment rates, especially in leadership roles, have fallen after gains in recent years. Wider injustices continue: The WEF report predicts that men and women in the United States, according to current trends, receive equal pay in just six decades.
Women are still significantly underrepresented in the sectors that make up the leading industries of the future in the developed world: According to the WEFin data and artificial intelligence, women make up 32 percent of the workforce; in engineering, 20 percent; in cloud computing, 14 percent.
By the way, the picture is a matter of concern. According to the report, South Asia is about two centuries away from achieving gender parity, and the countries of East Asia are more than 165 years away. According to the separate surveys conducted by the World Bank, women in Latin America were 44 percent more likely to lose their jobs at the start of the crisis. Moreover, 21 percent of women who were employed before the pandemic are apparently now out of work. The permanent gender gap in the workforce, the World Bank concluded, could cost Latin American and Caribbean countries about 14 percent of total GDP per capita in the region over the next three decades.
The impact of the pandemic is spreading beyond economic reasons. New Lancet research, a British health magazine, found that maternal health outcomes collapsed around the world during the pandemic, including “rising maternal mortality, stillbirths, ruptured ectopic pregnancies and maternal depression”.
“Data from a dozen studies have shown that the chances of a stillbirth have increased by 28 percent. And the risk of women dying during pregnancy or childbirth has increased by more than a third in two countries: Mexico and India, ” remarked the New York Times.
Although health concerns are growing, the largest gender gap, as measured by the World Economic Forum, lies in the area of ”political empowerment”. Women represent only about 26 percent of some 35,500 seats and only 22.6 percent of the more than 3,400 ministers identified in the organization’s data.
More shame, say prominent female leaders. “Women-led countries are dealing with the pandemic more effectively than many others. Peace processes and peace agreements mediated with the active participation of women are more lasting and comprehensive, ” noted the recently published edition signed by dozens of ambassadors deployed to the United Nations. “When women have equal opportunities in the workforce, economies can unlock billions of dollars.”