• Women have been hit harder than men by job losses around the world due to the pandemic, taking on the bulk of the extra caregiving responsibilities during lockdowns.
  • Women's employment levels are likely to recover more slowly according to a forecast by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  • "If women are not part of the workforce, that will have a ripple effect in the whole economy, the whole society," said Stephanie Oueda Cruz.

Governments, companies and investors must do more to reverse the blow dealt to gender equality by the COVID-19 pandemic and try to cement some silver linings of the crisis for women, experts told a panel at the Reuters Next conference on Thursday.

"It is one step forward and three steps back," said Carlien Scheele, director of the European Institute for Gender Equality, noting that women had taken on the bulk of the extra caregiving responsibilities during lockdowns.

Women have been hit harder than men by job losses around the world due to the pandemic and their employment levels are likely to recover more slowly as they continue to do more unpaid care work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has forecast.

Trend in global employment levels, 2006–2021*, by sex
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on employment levels.
Image: ILO

"If women are not part of the workforce, that will have a ripple effect in the whole economy, the whole society," said Stephanie Oueda Cruz, head of gender, diversity and inclusion at IDB Invest, part of the Inter-American Development Bank.

That could mean a 14% hit to economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in the next three decades, she added.

Some women stuck at home made money during lockdowns by baking and cooking, according to Melissa Siska Juminto, chief operating officer of Indonesian e-commerce company Tokopedia, which helps local businesses sell products online.

"They made use of this opportunity to sell online and build a brand," she said, adding that Tokopedia had seen 1.5 times more women starting businesses during the pandemic than men.

However, Oueda Cruz said women-led businesses often struggle to raise funds, which IDB Invest is trying to address, including by launching "gender bonds" to finance projects aimed at promoting the empowerment of women.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

At Tokopedia, lockdowns coincided with a baby boom so the company decided to introduce more generous maternity and paternity leave and make it possible to bring children into the office by providing a staffed playroom.

Scheele said companies needed to encourage men as well as women to use the flexible working practices that look set to stay after the pandemic.

"Women tend to use those positive aspects of flexibility to care more in the household, whereas men use the flexibility to spend more hours on work," she said.