Women are on the frontlines of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Women leaders have proven effective in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, it is feared that the current crisis is going to be disastrous for women’s economic advancement and progress towards gender equality.
Although 2020 marks 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, it is feared that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be disastrous for women’s economic advancement, undoing years of limited progress towards closing the gender pay gap. Covid-19 has exposed the inherent systemic inequalities in the UK for women and girls, from health and the economy, to security and social protection. The crisis has also highlighted the clear distinction between the jobs that are more economically valued by society, and the jobs that were previously classed as ‘low-value’ and ‘low-skilled’, yet now turn out to be the most important to society; the key workers.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights that a third of key worker employees – and 71% of those in the food sector – earn £10 an hour or less, which is below the national living wage. 60% of key workers are women, compared to 43% of workers outside of these key industries, while 79% of healthcare workers are women. This draws attention to the fact that women are disproportionately represented in low-paid sectors, which are now proving to be the most vital for society. The median gender pay gap for directly employed staff in the English NHS in December 2017 was 8.6%, in favour of men, equivalent to an earnings gap of £207 over that month. This gender pay gap is even further exasperated in the teaching profession: in 2018, the pay gap stood at 18.4% for UK full-time and part-time employees. Clapping for the NHS and other key workers is not enough, we must readdress the jobs which are most valued by society. Women are still underpaid and undervalued – when will real progress towards full gender equality be made? However, the gender pay gap is just one form of inequality that women face; the problem of gender inequality is rooted in complex, interrelated factors.
Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Representation is fundamental for moving towards more inclusive, sustainable, and equal societies. Women leaders have been in the spotlight since the beginning of the pandemic, highlighting the effectiveness of female leaders in handling the Covid-19 crisis. The leadership in New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, and Iceland provides compelling examples to support this claim. The leadership in Denmark has been praised as one of the most effective responses to the first wave of Covid-19 in Europe, given its comparatively low death rate to its European neighbours. Furthermore, the media has been drawing attention to the fact that countries led by women seem to be particularly successful in fighting the Covid-19 crisis, but why is this the case? Although it is hard to draw hard conclusions about gender, given that just over 10% of countries in the world are led by a woman, the effective leadership of several woman leaders around the world may still offer important lessons about leadership during a crisis. As highlighted by an article from The Conversation, what if many countries led by women are proving to be more effective at managing the pandemic not because of the gender of their leader, but because the election of women is a reflection of societies, where there is a greater presence of women in many positions of power, in all sectors? Therefore, it is important to recognise the danger of presenting women leaders as a homogenous group, and instead draw the conclusion that proportional representation of women at all levels of political leadership results in a broader perspective on the crisis and paves the way for the deployment of more effective solutions. We have the opportunity to move towards more inclusive, sustainable, and equal societies. As we emerge from this crisis, significance must be placed on readdressing the jobs which are most valued by society, and how we value women in work and in positions of leadership.
We at JAN Trust recognise women’s significant contribution to society. We work tirelessly to empower women to recognise their own potential and provide a supportive environment for BAMER individuals to learn new skills, such as IT, life skills, and fashion and design skills to broaden employment opportunities. JAN Trust’s work has also come under threat because of Covid-19. If you’d like to help us continue to help those who most need it, please donate.