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Gender equality takes one step forward, three back during COVID

by Reuters
Thursday, 2 December 2021 11:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Women wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk under a Christmas illumination at a shopping district in central Seoul, South Korea, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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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 according to a forecast by the International Labour Organization (ILO)

BERLIN, Dec 2 (Reuters) - 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.

"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.

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.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson in Berlin Editing by Matthew Lewis)