Alastair Osborne looks at the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on equality and finds that government decisions are helping to ensure that the socio-economic impact of lockdown will be disproportionately felt by women and girls.

What’s the difference between a man with corona virus symptoms and a woman? None, except the woman earns less. Okay, perhaps that’s not the best joke to start my stand up routine, but it is true. In the battle for equality the story is always one of struggle, advancement, backlash and then struggle again. While men are more likely to die from COVID19, women are facing the full blow of the socio-economic fallout from the ongoing pandemic as well as seeing a reversal in equality gains made over the last two decades.

Professor Catherine Bertini, of Syracuse University and former executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, speaks of “the disproportionate impact of COVID19 on women and girls magnified many times over because of their roles as caregivers, as mothers, as cooks. And ultimately as the people who are holding families together.” Bertini first highlighted this issue back in 1995 in a seminal speech titled “Women eat last”. While experts are still gathering data on the current crisis, past studies have all shown that women are more affected by food insecurity than men, often allocating food to others before themselves.

We are also seeing surging levels of violence against women and girls, including child marriages as a result of lockdown conditions worldwide. The most vulnerable, poorest children are those least likely to return to school after a crisis. Many girls, especially adolescents, may never return to school. A Kenyan government health survey has revealed that an estimated 4,000 school-going adolescents have become pregnant during the COVID19 lockdown.

Here in the UK we had to have a debate on the need to extend free school meals over lockdown and the extended enforced school holiday period. The case had to be made. On a world scale it is glaringly obvious. Without linking food programmes to educational provision large numbers of children, especially girls, will never return to education after the pandemic. The struggle for equality will be set back decades.

Harriet Harman added to the Equality Bill a duty to show the socio-economic impact of all policies, demonstrating the link between equality and poverty and discrimination. The Home Secretary and Equalities Minister in the subsequent coalition government, Theresa May, dropped the requirement, dismissing it as “socialism in one clause”. It was a moderate and sensible effort to provide a framework for equality that recognised the role of poverty and socio-economic disadvantage.

The chancellor warns of the economic fall out from the pandemic, but what about the setback to the fight for equality? Hard won gains for women will be vulnerable to the post COVID19 drive to get things going again. Expect to see a backlash with a vengeance. Childcare will no longer be a priority; gender pay gap audits will become a luxury; pregnant women’s rights at work a drag on economic recovery. Before this crisis the World Economic Forum predicted it would take over 250 years to reach economic parity between men and women. The devastating truth is that COVID19 has set that figure back by generations.

Anyway! Back to my stand up routine. Why do men go for the higher paid jobs like doctors and TV presenters while women settle for lower paid jobs like women doctors and women TV presenters?

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7 thoughts on “Equality is no joke

  1. Sorry to say, but this article is complete tosh – a case of an author picking the evidence that supports his argument and ignoring or dismissing other evidence if ever there was one.

    First, Covid 19 is more likely to kill men. Let’s not dismiss that fact as though a mere trivial point.

    Secondly, thinking of Scotland here rather than across the world, most men in employment work full time whereas half of women in employment work part time – I wonder who is impacted more by having to work from home for all their working hours?

    Thirdly, the author says “Here in the UK we had to have a debate on the need to extend free school meals over lockdown…” No we didn’t. Scotland decided to make that provision early on but the UK government, acting for England, had to be persuaded by Marcus Rashford before agreeing.

    Finally, male doctors and female doctors get the same salary for equivalent posts I’m sure you wouldn’t want to give the impression that they were paid differently depending on their sex

    1. Of course there was a UK debate on free school meals over the summer. It didn’t happen before and it is now because of Covid. The U.K. Government was slower to respond because it is a Tory Government and that’s what you would expect. Labour led the political fight for the Tories to change their mind bolstered by Marcus Rashford’s public campaign.
      The Gender Pay Gap between men and women doctors according to the most recent stats is 17% in England and 20% in Scotland

      1. Don’t confuse gender pay gap with unequal pay. Men, on average, have more senior roles and therefore, on average, earn more.

  2. What’s the difference between a man with corona virus symptoms and a woman?
    Answer – Men are twice as likely to die. Not funny.

  3. “government decisions….”

    Which government is the author complaining about? Clarity please…

  4. Women – on average – earn less than men due to their choices to work part time rather than full time, their choices to seek employment in sectors than pay lower wages, and their choices to not apply for promotion to the same extent as men. It is not due to unequal pay as men and women get the same pay for the same job. It is not due to lack of educational qualifications restricting opportunities as girls outperform boys at school and therefore have greater opportunities and choices of careers than boys.

    Equal rights for women have been achieved – women now have the same choices and opportunities as men, if not more, and equal pay for the same job. We are now moving towards equal retirements for men and women so that the discrimination against men is ended, though considering that men have lower life expectancies than women, there is an argument that men should be able to retire earlier than women…

  5. Alistair, your article seems to be a rant, mostly against the Tory government down south.
    And, let us be honest, England is a Tory country, leaning more, and more to the right.
    While that may be regrettable, we in Scotland have a solution.
    Governing your own country, whilst cooperating with others, is the international norm.
    I see little possibility for England to change its political spots, and stop voting mostly Tory.
    I see little sign that Scotland will change from a centre-left country, and vote Tory.

    If the UK was comprised of, say, half a dozen countries of various, fairly similar, sizes, devolved or federal government could work. In a State with one overweening giant, it doesn’t.

    Scottish independence is the key to achieving the kind of country most Scots wish. We would (like Ireland) find the “neighbourliness” that is strained at the moment. England would do its thing without the drag of a surly neighbour. Scotland would get on with life without constant reference to–you know who. And we have geo-political, social and economic reasons to be good friends

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