CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 03 (IPS) – The COVID-19 pandemic (henceforth pandemic) has women particularly hard. In almost all countries, women constitute the bulk of the labour force in the service sector, which was hardest hit by the pandemic. Furthermore, they also represent a disproportionate share of the work force in particularly vulnerable sectors such as health care. Women also have disproportionate if not sole responsibility for home work including taking care of children.
In many developing countries where most families are engaged in the informal sector women also had to bear the additional cost of their men folk losing their jobs as workplaces were shut down because of persistent and repeated lockdowns.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that during the pandemic, casualization of the work force has increased substantially. Because of their filial responsibilities, women are disproportionately represented in the causal work force. This has meant a further loss in incomes for many women.
When analysing women’s attainments it is helpful to view it as a sequence of two steps. First, one could look at indicators of human development followed by women’s actual attainments in terms of wages, salaries and representation in key positions.
Indicators of human development disaggregated by gender is available in the Gender Development Index (GDI) computed and published annually by the UNDP as part of its Human Development Report.
The GDI views disparities women and men in three different dimensions of human development: health, schooling and measures of living standards. The GDI first calculates Human Development Indicators using these three measures for both women and men separately and then takes the ratio of the index for women to the value of the index for men. The closer this ratio is to 1, the more equal is society for both genders.
Every year the UNDP computes this index for 167 countries which are classified into five groups based on the absolute deviation from gender parity in HDI values. This means that grouping takes equally into consideration gender gaps favoring males, as well as those favoring females.
The latest GDI for the world as whole is 0.943, with HDI value of 0.714 for females and 0.757 for males. Women marginally outperform men in the area of life expectancy; they have equal attainment as men in expected years of schooling but fall behind men in key areas of mean level of schooling and gross national income per capita by gender.
Although the GDI is a useful measure, of how much women are lagging behind their male counterparts and how much women need to catch up within each dimension of human development, there are a number of areas in which they are unable to capture key underlying trends. For instance, in the area of nutrition within the family standard measures assume that there is equal access for males and females within the household. Recent literature emphasizes that this may not be the case. Indeed, female children may be discriminated against in comparison to their male counterparts.
Moreover, in some countries although enrolment of females in primary is quite robust, secondary female enrolment in school drops off. See chapter 8 of
In many countries female students are under-represented in key disciplines of study such as science and mathematics and over-represented in less remunerative areas of study.
When we analyse the second step – women’s actual economic attainment – the conclusions are even less sanguine. For example, in the case of Australia (a country with a GDI of 0.976) women are underrepresented in almost all leadership and management positions.
According to the latest data, women hold only 32.5 % of key management positions, 28.1 % of directorships, 18.3 % of CEOs, and 14.6 % of board chairs.
An international comparison of women’s attainments in some key countries is available in:
Such trends have caused many observers to feel that women face a broken rung in the ladder for leadership in organisations.
As if such results were not enough, there is compelling evidence to suggest that men are paid more than women (gender gap)
In recent years, although the gender pay gap has narrowed this progress has now stalled.
With this as background, one comes to the conclusion that women are economically worse off than men largely because women’s work is not fully priced in the marketplace. From the family to the frontiers in science, technology, politics and the armed forces women provide absolutely critical services, but these services are not always valued adequately.
The primary reason why such gaps have persisted for so long is attitudinal. From the household to the board room women face attitudes that are inimical to their interests. So, along with legislative and other measures to ensure equality for women all sections of all societies must work on their attitudes towards women.
The author is Professor of Economics and Executive Director, Australia South Asia Research Centre, Australian National University
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