‘Shecession’ & Social Regression, An Inadvertent Impact Of COVID-19 Pandemic
The year 2020 is turning out to be tough for everyone, be it in terms of health, wealth or just happiness. We will be hard-pressed to find a person who has not been touched by the pandemic currently ravaging the world, destroying people’s physical and mental health along with world economies. We are progressing towards severe recession across the world with an as yet undetermined impact since the pandemic is still showing no signs of abating.
On the surface, it seems to be a universal phenomenon, sparing none. However, a closer inspection shows that it actually widens the existing divides, impacting the vulnerable more. For example, it’s easier for white-collar workers to work from home, for rich kids to have access to online learning equipment and support from educated parents or for well off people living in large houses to have the space to isolate and exercise without actually stepping out.
However, the worst impact of this discrepancy is between men and women. Women, while being statistically less impacted by the actual disease per se with respect to men, are much worse off socially and financially.
The last century has seen massive improvements in women’s rights and education so subsequent employment. Yet, this has not been matched with equal progress in terms of reduction in housework, so women used to end up working a second or double shift at home. Pre-pandemic, women were performing 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The pandemic has increased this proportion even more, what with the whole family being at home all the time. This has led to a “double-double shift”, as coined by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
In fact, we are becoming increasingly socially regressive during the pandemic, despite the perception and plethora of WhatsApp jokes about men learning to cook and clean.
Traditionally women’s jobs have been lower-earning, part-time or with a degree of flexibility. They also have an inherent capability to absorb more caring responsibility. Besides, there is an expectation of the patriarchal society, where men are spared and women are trained to do housework from a young age.
Previously, at least some had maids to help. With the pandemic leading to their conspicuous absence, for obvious reasons, it has exacerbated the situation and led them to choose to cut work somewhere, for their physical and mental wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, they choose to let go of the office. It was no joke, rather a representation of the stress women go through, when Subarna Ghosh, started a petition to PM Modi, asking him to address the issue of men sharing housework.
It does make logical and financial sense for the women to give up paid work. After all, we do need someone to stay at home and take care of the kids and the elderly. Since the men mostly earn more, have a stable job, can devote more time to work and are valued more, it is a no brainer what will happen. Yet, this means we are moving back to the old ways of men working outside and women doing all the household work. It means the progress we made around gender equality will regress by decades. It may be the right choice for the individual family but may not be the right choice for society as a whole.
In addition to this, a larger proportion of women work in the sectors hardest hit, like leisure, travel and hospitality, education and retail sector. As these sectors are doing worse, the chances of layoff or reduction in income are inherently higher for women too. For example, a majority of the airline staff are women, so the impact will also be greater for them.
Just like in 2008, a disproportionately higher loss of blue-collared jobs led to it being termed as “mancession”, the current path of recession seems to impact women more and is being widely labelled as “shecession” or a pink-collar recession.
It is a universal phenomenon, impacting women across the world. Based on actual data, the US National Women’s Law Center estimated that just in the month of April 2020, this crisis wiped out all the job gains that women had made in the entire past decade.
A study of previous pandemics, like Ebola and Zika, shows that not only did women take up more care, the economic recovery was especially slow for them. This may be due to the nature of their job being considered less essential and the time it takes for the social demands to settle down. It also shows the deep, long-lasting effects on gender equality. While initially everyone was proportionally impacted, men bounced back rapidly but women took longer to come back to pre-epidemic levels. Sometimes it took years, as missed vaccines and preventable illnesses in children led to mothers taking time off even years later.
However, it’s not all bad news. There is a lot more acceptance and appreciation around the importance of child care and early education now, along with the contributions of women towards it. Post-pandemic investment in these sectors will result in not only more jobs but also the recognition of women’s contribution towards them. It’s time for us to acknowledge the unpaid efforts of women, share and try to alleviate it so they can contribute towards paid efforts.
Overall the impact of the pandemic is universally accepted to be severe. It is up to us at home and the government, to ensure the effect is evenly distributed in education and employment so we can minimize the impact of this “shecession”.