Covid-19: A dangerous brake on gender equality

How Covid-19 has widened the already existing gender gap


Estela Martín

3 years ago | 3 min read

There is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality at workplace and Covid-19 can be a dangerous brake worldwide in this regard (equal pay, promotions, inappropriate use of telework if it is used to perpetuate the traditional role of women at home…)

According to the United Nations (UN), across all regions, women are paid less than men, with the gender pay gap estimated at 23% globally.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls continues to be held back owing to the persistence of historical and structural unequal power relations between women and men, poverty and inequalities and disadvantages in access to resources and opportunities that limit women’s and girls’ capabilities.

Progress on narrowing that gap has been slow. While equal pay for men and women has been widely endorsed, applying it in practice has been difficult.

In order to ensure that no one is left behind, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address the need to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

About the Covid-19 the Fawcett Society, has published a report that highlights the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on equality in the workplace with 43% of working women saying they are worried about their job or promotion prospects due to the pandemic.

However, it also shows that if Government and employers choose the right path, changes caused by the pandemic could accelerate us towards gender equality. The report is centered in United Kingdom but can be extrapolated to other countries.

A huge change in labor relations

In short, Covid-19 has caused a huge change in labor relations worldwide, assuming, among many other changes, that teleworking has risen exponentially.

All this adds up to a very difficult and complex situation. For instance, in many countries confinement measures have been implemented. In some cases, these measures have led to the closure of schools, nursery schools.., so that women have had to assume their workload, in many cases, the burden additional care and housework.

ILO has just published (January 2021) the report “Working from home. From invisibility to decent work” in which alert of the dramatic increase in working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to address the issues facing homeworkers and their employers, and to pave the way to decent work for all who work from home.

According to this report, lying back and waiting for economic development to change the occupational profile is not the solution; instead, policies are need to transform home work (and telework) into a source of decent work, regardless of where it takes place or the type of activity undertaken.

Such improvements benefit not only workers but their families, the economy and society at large.

The risk of teleworking

About home office (teleworking) has grown exponentially due to Covid-19.

In this sense, we need to consider that teleworking (home office), well implemented and comprehensive and with digital disconnection policies, can be a great tool for work-life balance. However, if this is not the case, there is a huge risk of a setback in terms of gender equality for several reasons:

  • If are mostly women who end up teleworking (relegating them to the home)
  • If there is no clear regulation on equal pay, people who end up teleworking could receive a lower salary than corresponding to face-to-face work. If they are mostly women, it will be perpetuating and worsening the wage gap.
  • Home office can represent a brake (if companies do not have sound equality policies) in terms of promotions, gender pay gap…

For this reason, it is critical that governments pass labour measures aimed to eradicating the wage gap and promoting real equality at workplace.

And on the part of companies, the role of management and leadership style and, in particular, the role of Human Resources departments, is critical when defining recruiting and on boarding policies, promotions, teleworking plans (define teleworking policies from perspective on workplace equality), work-life balance policies…

If this is not the case, there is a risk of a decline in gender equality. Instead of narrowing the wage gap and getting closer to the goal of achieving full real equality, Covid-19 might mean that, on the contrary, widening the gap even more. We have a lot at stake in this field.


Created by

Estela Martín

Spanish journalist and lawyer. Linkedin Top Voices 2020 (Spain)







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