COVID-19 and Gender Equality

COVID, Special Report, Working conditions

In this COVID-19 pandemic, the first day promoting equal pay and gender equality, organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), takes place on September 18, 2020. This equality is not called into question in the European institutions thanks to the grade system, which guarantees equal pay for all workers, regardless of gender. However, career equality is not achieved in our organizations and institutions. The latter has moreover been shaken by the Coronavirus crisis. On this occasion, Union Syndicale would like to initiate, in the era of COVID-19, a reflection on gender equality and the issues that will be associated with it.

The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down: reduction of social ties (a bubble of a limited number of people), changes in our cultural habits (reservations and limited number of spectators, again), in our purchasing habits (1 or 2 people per household, going to the essentials when it comes to shopping with a time limited to 30 minutes). However, if there is one area where the pandemic is having an unprecedented impact, it is in the work place: work relations and organization are being affected. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, gender parity is threatened.

An unregulated and very poorly supervised form of telework has been adopted by the vast majority of companies and institutions as a quick and effective solution to respond to strategies of containment and total or partial cessation of social relations. This is in order to counter the spread of COVID-19. Now presented as a panacea to relieve road congestion, reduce urban pollution, increase productivity and induce a new dynamic within teams, this degraded form of teleworking does not only have advantages.

Indeed, it modifies work relations, which were previously social, transforming them into utilitarian appointments and reduced to the strict minimum necessary for the functioning of the company or department. The social becomes virtual and our relationships become distant and dehumanized little by little by interposed screens. The “de-spatialization” already pointed out, leads to a lack of identification with the institution that employs it on the part of the worker. Could this be an impoverishment of the corporate culture? It is possible to ask the question: the latter no longer feels attached to the values of his company and is disconnected from his professional objectives. The phenomenon is also observed within the European institutions. There is also a crisis of confidence in management, which is developing tools for online monitoring of workers’ activities. Indeed, the place of telework is paradoxically organized in a place of refuge (the home) where work is, quite rightly, normally absent but in which inequalities between men and women are also very marked. In this period of crisis for COVID-19, it does not take much to see them contaminate gender parity at work.

Unfortunately, career equality has not yet been achieved in the European institutions: precarious jobs (contract or temporary agents are very often women) and career progression like men is not yet a reality for most of them. Because of their private obligations, women are very often sidelined and do not have easy or at least not a quick access to higher grades. The coronavirus crisis has reinforced these inequalities: the obligation for parents to continue their children’s schooling at home has led to an increase in the mental burden experienced by women. They are most often the ones who give lessons, provide schooling, take care of daily household chores and take care of household organization, but the pandemic has increased their so-called “professional” workload while coupling it with their parental “obligations”, which have also been reinforced. As the ILO points out, “during the pandemic, many men and women have seen their unpaid work hours increase as a result of the closure of crèches and schools”. The challenge for the union is twofold: to work to enable a better balance between private and professional life for both parents and to offer the same opportunities to telework while maintaining a family balance.

In addition, violence against women has considerably increased (+30% in France alone) during the period of confinement, and this, everywhere in the world. Social networks have made it possible to relay a great deal of information in order to help victims and/or refer them to more competent structures. However, the coronavirus has created greater instability for these women, trapped with their aggressor, on a daily basis and within the four walls of their home. However, many governments in Europe and around the world, in conjunction with women’s rights associations, have developed their policy of listening, accompanied by new reporting strategies that are safe for the victims.

The problems arising from confinement and unstructured telework are not only of a family or private nature, cyberbullying has insidiously become an integral part of long-distance working relationships. Although telework reduces the problems of physical or verbal harassment face-to-face, the risk of being harassed or abused through e-mails or videoconferencing meetings is there. Well-being and health at work cannot therefore be relegated to the background on the pretext that telework reduces psychosocial risks.

This is why Union Syndicale has set up a working and reflection group charged with drawing up proposals for action linked to the new challenges posed by distance working and what some people call the “new normal” of the world of work. Follow us on our social networks to be kept informed of the progress of our discussions on the implications of COVID-19 on gender equality!

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