Summary and Recommendations

Women have been uniquely and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. Unlike previous economic downturns where economic contraction started in male-dominated industries (like resources or construction), and men were disproportionately affected, the combined impacts of this recession (including impacts in workplaces and impacts at home) have disproportionally affected women.

Women were over-represented among workers in insecure and low-paid jobs and were shouldering the majority of unpaid domestic and care labour before the pandemic struck. Work predominantly performed by women – including much of the frontline and essential work which kept us safe during the pandemic – is more likely to be low-paid and insecure because of gendered assumptions and discriminatory views about the skills required and the value and complexity of the work. Government responses have not adequately addressed the way the COVID-19 crisis is reproducing and deepening existing structural inequality faced by women, and intensifying work and family pressures. In many ways, government policies have made it worse. Women already faced significant risks of violence and harassment pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 has exacerbated these risks, both at work and at home. For all these compounding reasons, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted on women more severely.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, 21% of the female workforce (or 1.3 million women) has lost work or is experiencing pressures on their capacity to retain paid work. Workers in insecure jobs in customer-facing female-dominated industries like hospitality and retail were most affected by the initial pandemic job losses. Women have led the national pandemic response as frontline workers in healthcare, community and social services, education and retail, often putting their own health and safety on the line to keep essential services running. Women have also disproportionately carried the burden of an explosion in care and domestic demands from the pandemic. This increase in unpaid caring work at home places enormous strain on women workers, in turn reducing their capacity to do paid work.

The COVID-19 crisis has deepened the twin crises facing women: a shortage of good jobs, and an increase in the household caring burden. Without targeted action for women on both the paid work and unpaid care fronts, they face erosion of decades of collective advances toward decently paid work, and the increased risks to their health and safety.