Women’s Empowerment & Covid-19: Has the lockdown made the gender divide wider?

Women’s Empowerment & Covid-19: Has the lockdown made the gender divide wider?

As part of the first-ever iGlobal Conference last month, an incisive panel discussion explored the impact of the pandemic on women’s empowerment. Has more time at home helped women balance professional life with domestic and parenting duties, or has it simply added on extra burdens?

Hosted by broadcaster-journalist Sonali Shah, the panel brought together Priya Guha; Venture Partner at Merian Ventures; Munni Trivedi, Co-founder of Magenta; Oliver Ballhatchet MBE, UK’s Deputy High Commissioner to India; and Rima Sengupta, Senior Associate at Axiom Stone.

Shining a light

Whilst the unprecedented challenges have been felt by everyone during the pandemic, the gender implications have been far-reaching. A recent McKinsey report revealed women’s jobs are more vulnerable to the pandemic than men. This is partially because the burden of unpaid care is carried by women and they are more likely to work in sectors that are on the decline due to the lockdown, as we see with the hospitality industry which has a higher female employment rate.

Guha reflected that whilst women in the hospitality sector have been one of the hard-hit and will continue to be affected despite the government support, it goes beyond just this segment.

She said: “What we are seeing is female academics publishing less than their male counterparts. We are seeing that the already underrepresented group in tech are disproportionately not having access to things like investments, which helps them scale.

“So, what I am seeing is a real risk of some of the inequalities that were already there being exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Multi-tasking

In addition to gender, race, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities have also magnified since the pandemic. Besides a rise in the number of domestic violence cases, women also face additional burdens such as an unbalanced burden of care for family members and extra domestic duties.

Munni Trivedi says she found through conversations with female entrepreneurs that women in joint families are finding themselves having to work three times harder and are multi-tasking more than usual.

“Working remotely is something we are all used to, however as a business we’ve tweaked the way we work and that includes offering extra support to our employees and being flexible,” she notes.

Ballhatchet, an India-based diplomat and a father, added: “I have certainly seen colleagues of mine who perhaps for the first time have had to help out at home. But I do not doubt that the domestic work has fallen heavily on the women.

“Because of the dramatic change in our lifestyles in the last six months, men have had to step us as well and I have seen a number of male staff affected by this and struggling a bit. I hope the upside of this is a greater appreciation of women who had to do this for generations.”

Work from home

Working from home has both its benefits and downsides; for some it allows the opportunity to find what best suits them and it allows companies to be more flexible and as result gives parents extra time with their loved ones and also allows for individuals/families to save more with less commuting.

But Rima Sengupta, a senior associate at Axiom Stone, reflected how since the start of the pandemic she has been working from the office.

“For me to wake up and have a disciplined life is very important. I needed the boundaries of going the office and coming back home. It is a decision I took to protect my own sanity,” she explains.

Ballhatchet notes: “I’ve seen in the last five years a significant shift towards an appreciation that people can work from home. There is an upside and downside to it; I have seen some women who have caring responsibilities and appreciate that they have got the opportunity to work from home and lead a more flexible life.

“On the flip side of this, for both genders, I think the downside is that it has blurred work and home life.”

Finding solutions

To mitigate the impact of Covid-19, Guha believes things need to start with data.

She explains: “What we have all been guilty of in this pandemic is the rush to find solutions, but without thinking how those solutions should be analysed through the prism of areas like gender, social and racial background.

“It is in everybody’s interest in society to make sure that the gender inequity is not being exacerbated by the pandemic and indeed some of the issues we’ve been discussing are addressed and hopefully resolved and nudged towards a more diverse set up across all parts of the economy.”

*For other sessions from the iGlobal Conference, explore here

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