It’s surprising that women are being the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Why do I say it it’s surprising? Traditionally speaking, in times of economic crisis, the hardest-hit sectors are ones like manufacturing and construction — bands of the employment spectrum traditionally occupied more by men than women. Take the Great Recession, large numbers of jobs vanished in those areas plus financial services and durable goods, helping to earn it classification as a “mancession.”
How is this different?
The staggering employment cliff precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has been tougher on women, and in a variety of ways.
Compared to ‘regular’ recessions, which affect men’s employment more severely than women’s employment, the employment drop related to social distancing measures has a large impact on sectors with high female employment shares.
Think about all of the schools and daycares that have been closed. Who is expected to pick up the increase in childcare needs? Mostly working mothers and it will most likely continue until we enter a new wave of “normal”.
Women are facing increased child-care responsibilities, economic uncertainty in low, unequal paying jobs and in some cases are touched by gender-based violence. This is why the snowball effect is hitting women hard and even more so in terms of our mental health.
We seem to be the most affected in terms of job lose, as our jobs are almost 2x as likely to be vulnerable to this crisis. When you take into account that women make up about 40% of global employment, they account for over 50% of overall job losses, mostly made up of the accommodation food services industries.
Enter the ‘she-cession’
If the Great Recession was dubbed the ‘man-cession’, this economic downturn where job losses are affecting women has been dubbed the ‘she-cession.’ We also can’t forget the uncertainty and mixed research around the risks of COVID-19 while pregnant, as well as the affects the virus has on newborns, toddlers and school-going children. Then of course there is concern around access to maternal health care.
The COVID-19 economic downturn has substantial implications for gender equality — both in the workplace as well as within households. Many women work part-time to have flexible scheduling, and many women who work part-time are single mothers. They are the first to be laid off, and for them any loss of income is a very big hit. Most women are in occupations that for the most part are not unionized, and they are not in the type of job where seniority means a great deal.
These are the type of jobs where there isn’t much security of employment. Will those jobs be waiting for them when they come back? Will they lose their health insurance? People talk about good jobs, but lots of women don’t work in that type of job. I think it’s the structure of employment in the U.S. that predicts the result that we see happening now. The pandemic will also help focus attention on the wage gap and what it means for the women who hold certain jobs.
With so much going on, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels and depression would likely be on the rise for women and that immediate intervention is needed.
Support the mental health of women
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a tremendous amount of stress, fear and anxiety for many people. It’s important that when possible everyone, but especially women, have access to the mental health care resources they need to stay well during this challenging time. It’s imperative that mental health services are available, connect people with private organizations that can provide support, strengthen telemedicine resources (which replace clinic visits) and facilitate other well-being supports to help women successfully cope.
That can look like…
- Getting back to work and safely – while removing the massive strain on women
- Empowering women from marginalised communities, racialized groups, and those with disabilities
- Putting an end to discrimination of women in the workplace. We cannot afford to lose skilled labour
- Putting in place measures to ensure the pandemic does not reverse decades of progress in women’s, children’s, and adolescent’s health
- Paying attention to gender-based differences that can be overlooked during a public health emergency
- Increasing the visibility of female based support groups
- Encouraging women to speak out if they are having difficulties coping and asking
Nothing will improve overnight but it’s a process we can all work through together. If there’s any silver lining it’s perhaps that the world at large, and America especially, take a good hard look at how we treat the women in our society when times are tough. The mental health impacts of the coronavirus are real, significant, growing and must be addressed to limit any additional harm.
Do you or someone you know need someone to talk for support? Help is here at the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), COVID-19 Mental Health Support, and more. Don’t wait until it’s too late, reach out now.