Around the world, health disasters have historically correlated with a damaging period of regression in women’s economic progress in the affected region. There are several factors, but domestic labor expectations are always a leading cause. Since the Spanish Flu pandemic 100 years ago, major health crisis events mostly occur in one region at a time. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a global event, impacting women in every world region.
Women make up over 50 percent of the world’s population, and 39 percent of the global labor pool. If female economic regression occurs on a global scale, the world’s economy will face astronomical losses. McKinsey has estimated that by 2030, global GDP will be $1 trillion lower than the pre-pandemic projections.
We may be 100 years beyond the Spanish Flu, but COVID-19 has illuminated similar barriers to equality. Domestic work is still gendered, and the labor division is not equal. UN Women has carried out Rapid Gender Assessment Surveys across 50 countries since the onset of the pandemic. Deputy Director Anita Bhatia stated that 25 years of progress could revert in just one year.
A vital societal resource
Before COVID-19, 16 billion hours of unpaid domestic work happened around the globe every day. This invisible labor encompasses the vital, yet under-valued duties of parenting children, maintaining a home and the constant organizational admin this requires. Studies found that despite gains made in global equality, women carried out 75 percent of these hours.
With the added responsibilities created by homeschooling, caring for vulnerable relatives, and juggling domestic life while working from home, invisible labor has increased. The International Monetary Fund has measured a global average of 2.7 additional domestic labor hours per day.
McKinsey has also reported that 54 percent of global pandemic job loss has been female. This greater risk to women’s employment comes from intrinsic gender roles in society. The majority of mothers now work, and marriage and parenting no longer obstruct career success. Yet traditional expectations towards domestic duties have not advanced at the same pace.
Invisible labor is globally recognized as a necessity for reproduction of the generational labor pool, and vital for the successful function of society. Yet it is not measured in economical terms by most governments and considered a free, renewable resource. This unequal distribution is a pressure-fuelled balancing act between work and family that is a recipe for burnout. Society trumpetd that women can now ‘have it all’. But the unspoken assumption is that they will also do it all.
Culture and industry division
Whether gender divides within industry division should be factored to embedded gender norms or natural genetic disposition, these divisions are additional obstacles during COVID-19. Women represent high numbers in sectors impacted by pandemic lockdowns, such as travel, hospitality, the arts, education and beauty.
Lockdowns have had a larger impact on women of color and female immigrants. These women represent large proportions of roles that cannot be performed from home. Additionally, they are statistically likely to receive lower rates of pay and are subject to systemic racial biases that are a barrier to promotion. In the United States, 54 percent of black women have reported job loss and financial insecurity, compared to only 27 percent of white men. In developing nations, these issues are more apparent due to discriminatory cultural norms around female employment and domestic expectations.
Preventing a crisis of invisible labor
Each study performed by these major organizations concluded that to prevent economic downfall, regressive attitudes towards invisible labor must be reformed at governmental level. Until policies are revised to support the career and domestic life balance, female progress will suffer. Changes to childcare subsidiaries, employment protections for mothers, and educational infrastructure will aid economic recovery and avert future crisis.
Leadership recognition will improve societal gender narratives, as current norms place a higher onus on women than men to conduct invisible labor. COVID-19 has proven that gender discrimination is not simply a ‘female issue’ affecting career success and mental health, but a problem that could damage the entire global economy if not taken seriously.
Gemma Dodd is a Political Correspondent at Immigration News. She is invested in human rights and informing audiences about social injustice and positive global change.
Editor’s note: Original spellings have been modified for American dialect.