LabFam seminar series: The Covid-19 crisis and gender equality: risks and opportunities
Jill Rubery, University of Manchester
How did Covid-19 affect women’s labour market position? The Covid‑19 pandemic has not just interrupted but disrupted the normal functioning of our economies and societies. Disruption provides an opportunity for progressive change but also engenders the risk of significant reversals in social progress. In this context, this chapter aims to assess the gendered impact of the first stage of the public health crisis, that is, the period from the beginning of significant Covid‑19 outbreaks in Europe in March 2020 to the loosening of lockdowns in May and June 2020, with precise timing dependent on the country. The focus is on the initial policy responses and what they tell us about both the potential for positive change and the risks of reversals in progress towards gender equality.
All crises have gendered impacts, and Covid‑19 is no exception. Differences in women’s and men’s positions in the employment and social protection system as well as in the division of unpaid household work and care result in gendered socio-economic impacts. Nevertheless, the extent to which the burden of crises falls on men and women depends both on their pre-crisis roles and how policies to address the crisis mitigate or exacerbate these effects. This crisis differs from others in that it has a health cause, not an economic one, even if the dominant neoliberal economic model and austerity policies that have squeezed expenditure on public services and social protection may have contributed to its impacts. This health issue is also gendered, with men much more vulnerable to hospitalisation and death from Covid‑19, although this goes beyond the scope of this chapter. Another key difference is the impact – at least in the short term – on the household. With the closing of schools and childcare facilities, the confining of people to their immediate households and the widespread adoption of teleworking, suddenly the home arena has moved centre stage. While in most crises the spotlight tends to be on the economy and paid employment, in this crisis the unpaid care work done in the home has gained unprecedented visibility, particularly as it is
being done alongside wage work and other commitments. As a result of the pandemic, the contributions of professionals to care and education have also become more visible by their absence. The dark side to this centrality of the home is the increased risk that women face from domestic violence.
About the speaker:
Jill Rubery’s research interests are in comparative employment systems with a particular focus on gender. She has researched and published widely on topics such as labour market regulation policies, minimum wages; new forms of work and flexibility; women’s employment and women’s pay; employers’ working-time policies; and international comparative employment systems. She founded the European Work and Employment Centre in 1994, now subsumed in the new Work and Equalities Institute which she directs. Her research has been funded by the ESRC, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Leverhulme Trust, the ILO and the European Commission amongst others. For many years she coordinated the gender and employment expert group for the EU and she is a member of the ILO’s steering committee for its Regulating Decent Work conference.