The impact of COVID-19 on women
Dr Helen McArdle, Chair, AMA Equity Inclusion and Diversity Committee
At its last meeting in 2020, the AMA Equity Inclusion and Diversity Committee (EIDC) considered the impact on women of the COVID-19 pandemic and found women were disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Research suggests during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges and burdens faced by women are exacerbated with women’s economic security, participation in formal employment, political representation, health outcomes and educational achievement negatively impacted, and more so than men.
Women’s actual experiences back up the research. Australian women made up the majority of those who lost their jobs during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and recorded a large fall in hours worked. While 60 per cent of jobs created since May 2020 have been filled by women, the literature suggests that the pandemic is likely to have more long-term negative implications for women than men. This is due to the financial and public health impact from women participating less in the workforce during COVID-19 (and hence having poorer health outcomes/poorer health outcomes for their families), and the compounding effect of career breaks and gender-based discrimination on career progression.
Within the health care sector, nearly four in five health care workers in the front line tasked with managing the pandemic were women, increasing their exposure and potentially their family members to the virus.ix As pandemic-related work responsibilities increased, women were more likely to manage increased childcare and schooling obligations, coupled with disproportionate household responsibilities, even among dual earning couples.
COVID-19 has not only exposed the comparative circumstances of women but has exacerbated the gender gap. Having been re-engaged in the workforce post COVID, women have lost superannuation contributions, wages and borne the brunt of family responsibility stressors (including domestic violence).
The EIDC was established in 2017 and provides the AMA with a forum for the identification and consideration of equity issues. It is tasked with developing policy and initiatives targeted towards enhancing equity and addressing inequitable and discriminatory practices that exist in the medical profession.
At its last meeting for 2020, AMA Federal Council discussed the impact of COVID-19 on women in the workforce and passed a motion calling on the Commonwealth Government to:
Recognise the disproportionate and negative impact of COVID-19 on women in workforce.
Ensure that strategies to achieve gender equity are at the centre of national COVID-19 recovery plans.
Commit to support gender equity by providing funding to increase access to:
equal and reasonable paid parental and carers leave entitlements for each parent to empower men to seek an equal share of the parenting responsibility;
flexible work arrangements for each parent, so that women can participate in the workforce without comparative disadvantage;
domestic and family violence support (including 10 days paid leave); and
flexible and affordable childcare so that parents can return the workplace.
The Gender Equality Act 2020 passed in Victoria provides the AMA with an opportunity to advocate for measures to improve gender equity within public hospitals and the community more broadly. We hope this is a mechanism to monitor change, beginning in Victoria and extending to other jurisdictions.
The AMA Equity Inclusion and Diversity Committee will continue to advocate in this area and collaborate with like-minded organisations with a view to affecting real change.