The future of working women in the next normaI

Some of the measures that need to be implemented to redress the gender disparity focus on bringing girls and young women back to school and employment, restore focus on healthcare services, and ensure the inclusion of more women in policymaking.

The future of working women in the next normaI

Tuesday January 24, 2023,

5 min Read

The July 2020 study by McKinsey and the July 2021 ILO report bear testimony to the fact that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on working women across the world with 1.8 times higher job losses. The pandemic has triggered gender-regressive outcomes where the global women's participation in the workforce is expected to drop by 13 million even while male employment recovers to 2019 numbers. As the world gears up for the next normal, we must be cognisant of the far-reaching impact this pandemic has had on the women workforce and strive to regain the lost ground.

Gender gap: A step back of 39 years due to the pandemic

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021 estimates a global step back of 39 years with respect to gender parity. We have lost a lot of the ground that was covered over the last nearly 4 decades. Women’s health, education, and employment took a back seat as the world geared up to deal with the pandemic.

The past two years have seen a drastic increase in domestic abuse and miscarriages due to lack of access to sexual and reproductive health. Women contributed to 39% of global employment prior to the pandemic but accounted for 54 % of the overall job losses owing to factors such as the increased burden of unpaid work leading them to exit the job market and high representation in sectors that have laid off employees, such as hospitality, travel, education, and retail.

The ill-planned prioritisation of resources during the pandemic has taken a toll on the physical and mental well-being of women. It has reiterated the fact that women’s health services are essential health services that cannot be neglected during a crisis as they have far-reaching consequences.

Neglect in the areas of women’s health, education and employment will prove to be detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of the entire family and community.

Regaining lost ground for the next normal

Some of the measures that need to be implemented to redress the gender disparity focus on bringing girls and young women back to school and employment, restore focus on healthcare services, and ensure the inclusion of more women in policymaking.

These measures will help to empower girls and women, which in turn, will shift mindsets to embrace positive changes. It is necessary for all of us to recognise the skeletons in our cupboards and work towards alleviating biases to create a more equal and just society.

The McKinsey study estimates that global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 if women's issues with respect to health, education, childcare and employment are not addressed. Some of the measures that can go a long way in mitigating these issues circle around the implementation of gender-responsive policies and leveraging technology in all spheres be it healthcare, education, or employment.

Implementation of gender-responsive policies

The world community needs to work towards advancing gender equality with a focus on key attributes such as equality in work; providing access to essential services and enablers of economic opportunity; and ensuring legal protection and political voice. This can begin with the inclusion of more women among decision-making bodies for they will be more attuned to the challenges faced by women.

A significant example of increasing access and inclusion has been the Indian government’s mandate that at least one-third of beneficiaries under the MGNREGA scheme should be women.

In 2020-21, women represented 53% of the workforce employed under MGNREGA. Moreover, local panchayats that implement MGNREGA are required to have 50% female representation. Reservations for women in the programme and its implementing body have led to a massive increase in their participation.

The Kudumbashree Livelihood programme for women in Kerala is another initiative that offers lessons on how to promote gender-centric livelihood programs in association with the private sector. The Kudumbashree State Rural Livelihood Mission in Kerala signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Amazon India where 2,000 micro women entrepreneurs operationalised 242 units for cooking and supplying nutritious food for poor children. These women supplied dietary supplements to more than 33,000 anganwadis or childcare centres, thereby generating an annual turnover of $1 billion.

Leveraging technology to remove the digital divide

Education has always been the great leveller as it has been the key to enabling social mobility. In today’s digital age, it is digital literacy that will help to equalise opportunities for women and increase access to healthcare, education and employment. The latest technological developments with their increasing reach to far-flung areas can be leveraged to enhance digital and financial literacy for poor rural and urban women. Low-cost smartphones or “smart feature phones” can play a prominent role in providing access to the internet and supporting wider digital inclusion. 

Distrust and fear of technology have significantly compromised the position of women in society and made them dependent on others for assistance. Digital literacy will enable them to expand their horizons and put them on the path to self-reliance. It will help them create new opportunities for growth by upskilling or acquiring new skills via online distance learning programs. Thus, technology can be leveraged to expand the ambit of women’s education, employment and even health via remote health consultation programmes. 

The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for all but it has been especially difficult for women. As we slowly recover from the impact of the pandemic and prepare for the next normal, it is our collective social responsibility to break new ground to create an environment of equity and fulfilment for women.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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