Gender equality is a priority for the European Commission, yet there are concerns that the coronavirus pandemic risks hampering progress.
Lockdown measures put extra burdens on families and place survivors of domestic violence in dangerous situations. At the same time, the realities of lockdown could challenge imbalances in traditional gender roles.
The JRC’s statisticians Anna Rita Manca and Eleni Papadimitriou and sociologistZsuzsa Blaskó and have joined forces to understand and raise awareness on the implications of the current crisis for gender equality. They recently published a report exploring these issues.
They tell us more about how they’re adapting to working from home, and what their research has shown them so far.
What does your research for the JRC usually entail?
ZB: I do research related to the broad concept of fairness. I investigate things like why highly capable children coming from poverty often end up with low educational attainment, and gender differences in the STEM subjects– Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Normally I would do this work from my office in Ispra, Italy. Now I’m working from home in Budapest.
AR: I study the resilience of the EU following the 2008-2012 financial and economic crisis. I’m aiming to identify the most resilient countries and regions, whether some countries have ‘bounced forward’ from the crisis, and what the main drivers of this resilience are. I also analyse individual resilience - profiling people who are more resilient than others and identifying the most vulnerable groups.
Like Zsuzsa, I normally work from my office in Ispra, but now I’m working from home.
How has that changed due to the coronavirus pandemic?
ZB: For me working from home is not lonely as the house is busy with our three teenage children, my husband and me. Work is now combined with supporting home-schooling, preparing meals and other duties. For the first few weeks I continued working on my ongoing projects, but now I am focusing more on the social consequences of this crisis. It is all doable from home, although I miss the exchanges with my colleagues, and the equipment in my office.
AR: I have only teleworked occasionally in the past, so I had to adapt quickly to this new situation. It’s been challenging to establish a fixed daily working routine and avoid diluting the working time too much. The lockdown is both personally and professionally lonely, although I often virtually meet with my colleagues. There are also some positive aspects – I now have more time to reflect on the projects I am working on.
You’re exploring gender issues and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. What are you trying to find out? How might it help with the response to the crisis?
ZB: We received a request to reflect upon the possible social consequences of the crisis and started exploring how gender relations could be influenced. There’s lots of discussion and concern over possible growing disparities and a setback in women’s independence around the globe. These fears are mainly due to the extreme vulnerability of many girls and women in the developing world, but women in Europe are also disadvantaged in several aspects. We face the risk that women will bear a disproportionate share of the social and economic consequences of the crisis – but we also see some opportunities for a shift in existing inequalities between men and women.
Understanding how the gender landscape can change due to this pandemic will help us work towards greater equality.
AR: Since the coronavirus outbreak hit us, I’ve been reading and thinking about how the crisis might have an impact on women. I teamed up with Zsuzsa and another colleague from her unit, Eleni Papadimitriou, to reflect on how the current pandemic is influencing gender relations on aspects like work, caring responsibilities, decision making and, unfortunately, gender based violence.
In particular, I’ve been exploring the implications of the pandemic on domestic violence. I want to raise awareness about the women and child survivors of domestic violence who are now forced to share the same house with their perpetrator and without the means to escape. Our research is a call to action to intervene now and save lives with concrete actions. Actions such as urgent funding to keep frontline support services open and ensuring that women’s shelters remain open with appropriate measures to protect guests and workers from the risk of COVID-19 infection.
What has been the most interesting observation with your research so far?
ZB: In Europe, there is still a prevailing belief that housework and childcare are predominantly female activities.
Home-schooling and looking after children, caring for the sick and the elderly - this adds a tremendous workload during lockdown. Women are likely to take the majority of this, with severe and sometimes long-lasting consequences on their wellbeing and even their job prospects.
On the other hand, many families will be forced to make a shift in the traditional distribution of work. When teleworking is an option for the man but not the woman – if she is a healthcare worker, for example - then the man will have little choice but to take over household and childcare duties.
How widespread these behavioural changes are is still to be seen, but there is some hope that shifts in gender roles may survive the crisis and even spread more widely.
AR: Violence against women is one of the most widespread but least reported human rights abuses. In Europe, one out of three women experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.
The pandemic is worsening an already critical situation. According to the European Parliament, domestic violence cases have risen by a third in some EU countries following lockdown. In Cyprus, helplines have registered a 30% call increase. In France, domestic violence reports have also risen by 30%.
Several EU countries have announced specific measures to tackle the increased risk of domestic violence, but we cannot rely only on national initiatives. In order to provide accurate and prompt policy support, we must have access to reliable statistical information on the magnitude of domestic violence during the pandemic, and beyond.
Now more than ever there is the need for a mandatory common standard for data collection across EU countries on domestic violence and gender based violence in general. This will help institutions make informed emergency responses and plan for the redesign and renewal of our systems post-coronavirus.
This is also the time to push for the finalisation of the EU’s accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention - and the full implementation of the Convention in those 21 EU countries that are parties to it. The Member States and the Council can play a crucial role in meeting these achievements. The European Commission has committed to doing its utmost to support them in this work, as set out in the EU’s Gender Equality Strategy. The coronavirus should not slow down the implementation of the Strategy - quite the contrary.
JRC report: How will the COVID-19 crisis affect existing gender divides in Europe?
JRC response to the COVID crisis: 22 socio-economic projects to monitor impact and develop policy responses
- 27 april 2020