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Women deserve a bigger role in our economic recovery

  • 30 June 2020
  It seemingly came out of the blue — a pandemic that sent us into social isolation and the global economy into a tailspin. As hospitality venues shut their doors, arts and entertainment organisations cancelled events, and sporting competitions went into hiatus, recession became inevitable.

It turns out that the COVID-19 economic crisis is disproportionately affecting women — so much so that some have dubbed it a ‘pink-collar recession’. Unemployment figures show that since February, 457,517 women have lost their jobs compared to 380,737 men.

Celina Ribeiro, writing for The Guardian, drilled down further into the gender disparity in the recession’s impact on unemployment. ‘For hundreds of thousands of women, the crisis has decimated their work opportunities, and for millions more, substantially increased their unpaid care work.’

Ribeiro cited analysis that showed that women were dropping out of the workforce altogether, suggesting the actual rate of unemployment for women is over 10 per cent. Women’s paid hours fell too, by 11.5 per cent compared to 7.5 per cent for men.

It’s a disparity that Monash University academics Angela Jackson, David Johnston and Nicole Black fear will only worsen once JobKeeper ends in September. ‘The jobs at risk are concentrated in female-dominated industries,’ such as hospitality, retail and tertiary education, they write in The Conversation.

To improve women’s economic outcomes — and support their mental health — the academics emphasise the importance of investing in female employment at this time. ‘The right approach is to ensure recovery programs are directed towards industries that employ women, and to boost funding for mental health care, especially programs designed for women,’ they write.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the outsized impact the crisis was having on women in a speech he delivered at a CEDA function on June 15. ‘We know there is a disproportionate impact on women,’ he said. ‘These workers are in the worst hit sectors, in particular accommodation, hospitality and retail, where more than 600,000 Australians have either lost their job or working zero hours.’

"Women... may well be the world’s most wantonly wasted resource. Because women are often underutilised, 'getting more females engaged causes the economy to grow. The data shows that women’s entry into the labour force is additive and fosters growth.'"

However, in the same speech, Morrison announced $1.5 billion for ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects on top of the $688 million already earmarked for home renovations to kickstart the economy. It’s clear that the government is relying on