Estonian commissioner: Crisis may deprive large numbers of women of income

Gender and equality commissioner Liisa-Ly Pakosta.
Gender and equality commissioner Liisa-Ly Pakosta. Source:

The current crisis caused by the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) could see a large number of women with reduced hours or unemployed, Estonia's equal opportunities commissioner Liisa Pakosta said on Monday, Equal Pay Day in Estonia. Due to the sectors impacted, such as culture, service and tourism where many women are employed, the crisis could have a disproportionate effect on women.

Under normal circumstances, March 23 would be observed as Equal Pay Day. On this day, data about the gender pay gap shows for the year 2019, a woman in Estonia would have received an equivalent salary to a man who finished working on December 31, 2019.

The gender pay gap in Estonia is the largest in Europe and among the largest in the world.

The office of the equal opportunities commissioner pointed out that during a crisis, vulnerable groups in society usually suffer most. For instance, a woman with small children or a person with a disability may not have the same kind of flexibility when searching for a new job as a man in good health and without children.

"While keeping an eye on the figures of the gender pay gap continues to be important, during a crisis household income and coping with the economic situation as a whole should be given much more attention. Gender awareness, meaning taking into account the specific needs of women and men, is one of the tools helping to better target crisis measures and exit the economic crisis as quickly as possible," Pakosta said.

The equal opportunities commissioner said during an economic crisis, interpreting a narrowing of the gender pay gap may be misguided. When women with lower pay lose a job or continue working part-time, the gender pay gap indicator measured by Eurostat will improve because people not getting paid and part-time workers are not included in the calculation, whereas no improvement takes place in how households actually cope economically.

For instance, when in 2005 the Marat sewing factory closed in the small town of Mustvee and 123 workers were made redundant, the pay gap indicator for Jõgeva County improved and showed the gap between men and women's salaries narrowed.

Jaan Masso, senior research fellow in applied econometrics at the University of Tartu and head of the InWeGe research team, said: "Experience from the previous crisis indicates that what groups by gender, age, nationality or other similar indicator are more painfully affected by the crisis depends on what sectors of the economy suffer more in the crisis.

"So, for instance, unemployment among men grew particularly fast, as in the construction sector, but also in manufacturing, a major decline took place. In the current crisis in great probability the service, culture and tourism sectors will suffer very much, which might affect women more than average."

It is already likely the time women are spending on unpaid domestic work has grown.

"Judging by what we can see, as a result of the distance learning introduced in Estonian schools and partial closure of kindergartens the workload has increased for mothers, for whom combining family life and work life has become more difficult than before even when their job has been preserved," Pakosta said. 

Before the current crisis women did twice as many hours of unpaid domestic work than men.

Surveys of the economic impact of Ebola and SARS have demonstrated that due to the pileup of such work it takes women longer than men to get back on their feet after a crisis.

The InWeGe research project explores gender differences in incomes and wealth over a person's life cycle. Under scrutiny are specifically the wages, assets and pensions of women.  

The project is financed from the EU program for rights, equality and citizenship, and taking part in the project are the office of the commissioner on equal opportunities, the University of  Tartu and TalTech.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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