Women, COVID-19 and the Future of Work in APEC
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The policy brief aims to capture some initial findings on the impact of the pandemic on women. It also provides an overview of the future of work issues from the perspective of women in the workforce, and apply a much-needed gender lens to the current 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) in light of the COVID-19 crisis. The key messages are as follows:
APEC economies are expecting severe economic repercussions from COVID-19, with a disproportionate impact on women.
COVID-19 is exacerbating existing social and economic inequities, making the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) vision for inclusive growth and shared prosperity more critical, including for women’s economic participation.
Women workers and women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) may bear the brunt of the economic downturn from COVID-19, as the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic are those where women are more likely to be working.
Women-led MSMEs also tend to be smaller and are more likely to be informal, so they may be adversely affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19. Women’s limited access to financing and capital compared to men’s prior to the pandemic may be further impacted by additional constraints on liquidity.
Increases in demands for unpaid care work may further widen gender gaps in the labour force if women’s productivity declines or they opt to leave the labour force due to rising unpaid care responsibilities, as predicted. COVID-19 has shown that caretakers’ work is essential.
The pandemic may also accelerate the deployment of 4IR technologies, increasing the risk of job displacement of routine and manual jobs that employ high numbers of women across APEC economies. Reskilling and upskilling efforts are needed to equip women and other at-risk groups with marketable skills.
Tech industries are booming in the COVID-19 environment, but women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. APEC can play a proactive role in addressing this situation through prioritizing efforts that support STEM education and mentoring, STEM training, skill-building, and access to STEM jobs for women and girls.
With more people confined to their homes, gender-based violence has also increased, and APEC economies play a critical role in working to prevent and address gender-based violence – including harassment – at home, work, and online, while also ensuring that support services remain adequate.