The Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES), UNECE’s statistical decision-making body, has released new guidance for measuring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and men.
From the moment that countries began imposing restrictions in a bid to flatten the curve of the impending pandemic, it has been starkly obvious that the effects have been different for women and men. While the health risks of the virus itself appear to be greater for men than for women, the social, economic, psychological and indirect health effects are also greatly conditioned by gender, with women being among the most heavily impacted.
News media and social networks featured countless tales of women bearing the brunt of the first sudden impacts of the pandemic on daily life—disproportionately shouldering the responsibilities of home-schooling children and taking care of the additional domestic work at the same time as juggling their own remote work; income from women’s often precarious employment suddenly dropping or ceasing altogether; lockdowns heightening the risks for those vulnerable to domestic violence.
As the initial shock has given way to longer-term changes, these tales have evolved into stories of the ongoing gender disparities brought about or worsened by the pandemic: lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care and mental health care; women exiting the labour force; gender differences in access to information and technology to tackle pandemic-related changes; and the ongoing dangers of violence against women coupled with reduced access to care and support for victims.
These anecdotes abound, and resonate with many of us. But policies are built on evidence, not anecdotes. The emerging statistical evidence from all regions of the world is beginning to confirm these observations, shedding light on gender disparities and the potential of the pandemic to reverse decades’ worth of gains in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Yet this evidence, crucial though it is for informing policy responses, is still very far from sufficient. The CES Steering Group on Gender Statistics has for many years advocated for more and better gender data—statistics that are both sex-disaggregated and collected on topics pertinent to gender equality and issues affecting women and girls. Now, seeing this need become more pressing than ever, they have created specialized technical guidance to aid national statistical offices (NSOs) in producing gender statistics related to the impact of the pandemic.
The guidance covers four topics, identified by surveying the NSOs of CES member countries about the demand for statistics and their early experiences in disseminating and communicating pandemic-related gender statistics:
- Work: paid work, unpaid work and volunteering
- Health: general health, mental health, and sexual and reproductive health
- Violence against women: prevalence and access to support services
- The digital gender divide: access to ICT, access to health and Covid-19 information, digital skills and ICT for work, digital skills and ICT for study and training, digital skills and ICT for communication and social networking, and e-commerce.
Within the new guidance, each of these topics is covered in depth with a discussion of their policy relevance; proposed indicators and suggested levels of disaggregation; proposed survey questions with recommended parent surveys (such as general household surveys, labour force surveys and health surveys), data collection frequency, and target population; and methodological notes and caveats to aid NSOs in producing valid, reliable and internationally comparable statistics.
Prior to approval by the Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians at its 13-14 October meeting, the guidance was presented to the international community of gender statistics experts at the recent online meeting of the CES Group of Experts on Gender statistics, 28-29 September, where it was showcased alongside presentations from countries which have already begun collecting information on the gendered impacts of the pandemic.
For example, in Colombia, a new telephone-based Social Pulse Survey carried out in the midst of the pandemic has revealed a statistically significant increase of one hour a day in unpaid work time for women, against no significant changes evidenced for men, widening the already notable gender gap in the division of unpaid domestic labour.
In Finland, a survey on gender-based violence is currently taking place, following a methodology set out by Eurostat and adding in new questions specifically related to the pandemic, on topics such as safety at home, use of women’s shelters, and perceived sense of safety in a variety of situations.
And in Italy, innovative analyses of diverse sources of data on violence against women indicate one positive impact—an increased awareness of the issues, leading to a greater tendency among victims to report their situation and reach out for help.
As the experiences of countries presenting at the Expert Meeting make clear, systematic, comparable, and disaggregated data to measure the immediate and longer-term gender-related consequences of the pandemic are essential. Only then can targeted policy action be taken. Without this information, responsive recovery efforts will be diluted or even impeded, and hard-won progress towards gender equality risks being undone.
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The guidance was developed by representatives from Canada, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America, the European Institute for Gender Equality, the International Labour Organization and UN Women.