How will the COVID-19 crisis affect existing gender divides in Europe?

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The present report is a first attempt to assess potential consequences of the covid-19 outbreak on women and on gender equality in Europe. The report was produced in April 2020, with the aim of informing policy making about the possible impacts of the crisis. Timing does not allow for reporting about actual impacts, as there is hardly any data available on the topic yet. Instead, this work provides an overview of the status quo in some relevant aspects of gender inequalities before the crisis and makes informed predictions on what is likely to happen during the crisis and also after.

The outbreak has increased the need for care work both outside and inside homes in an unprecedented manner. As “normally” women do a disproportionally large share of the unpaid work in most of the EU countries, there is a great risk that they will take up the major part of the increased responsibilities as well. If forced to reduce work hours or unable to deliver properly while teleworking – not only their wellbeing but also their longer-term labour market prospects will suffer. Moreover, the current crisis is not only – and not even mainly – threatening men-dominated employment sectors, but is likely to hit women (at least) as much as men. Coping with the increased burden at home and making ends meet at the same time can be particularly difficult for already vulnerable groups such as single mothers.

However, the crisis did not induce risks only, it also created some new opportunities to move towards a more gender-neutral distribution of work. Teleworking men are in a very good position to observe the unpaid labour usually carried out by female household members and to start sharing these duties. A shift in the distribution of work in these households may last after the crisis – especially if newly evolving teleworking opportunities will be maintained and used both by men and by women once the crisis will be over. At the time being it is hard to predict if the negative or the positive effects will dominate in the longer term. The report argues that variations by social groups as well as across countries can be expected and a lot can depend on how policy making respondsto these challenges.

In times of crisis and social isolation, the risk of domestic abuse increases. During the COVID-19 pandemic, each country is asking its citizens to stay at home, which implies sharing the same space with one’s abuser if one isexperiencing domestic violence. Several Member States have acknowledged the risk and introduced various measures to better support potential victims – but more needs to be done. Importantly, the role of women’s shelters should be reinforced as it is a valid means of reaching out to women out and making citizens more aware of gender-based violence.

An important crosscutting theme in gender-equality that affects all the aspects discussed in this report is the unequal representation of males and females in decision-making processes. The lack of gender balance and gender lens in global COVID-19 decision-making drives away from making gender equality a reality. The COVID-19 crisis should be seen as an opportunity to challenge the social dynamics in a way that benefits both women and men.

The report concludes with a set of policy recommendations that can help mitigating the damages and realisingthe potential benefits that the COVID-19 outbreak has brought about on the equality between men and women in Europe.

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