A third of women working before the pandemic no longer worked in January 2021 and this figure is three times higher than that of men, according to the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) Youth Survey 2021.
What the survey explicitly shows is that more women lost jobs to Covid-19, had a harder time finding another job, and had a much slower income recovery, said Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BIGD and one of the panelists on a webinar on Sunday.
Titled "Building a Resilient Ecosystem for Women in the Skills Sector: Challenges and Prospects", the webinar was moderated by Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, in charge of Brac Skills Development Programme. It discussed the findings from the BIGD survey and opinions of experts pertaining to the topic of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on working women.
Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate stood at 81% and 36% for women and men, respectively, according to the 2018 labour survey.
The panelists were unanimous in saying that these gender inequalities in the labour market existed long before the pandemic, but the crisis substantially exacerbated those inequalities and it demands, now more than ever, that more effort be given to bridge the gender gaps.
The most affected and vulnerable work sectors for women have been beauty parlours, tailoring, factory, handicraft and teaching during the pandemic.
More regrettably, a BIGD-Monash University SME survey showed that women employment may continue to suffer more as the pandemic progresses. For instance, women unemployment rose to 54% in January 2021 from 40% in July 2020 in the light engineering sector.
The implications of Covid-19 effects on women employment need to be seriously addressed, added Dr Matin. "Or else, there will be long-term effects on the economy and women empowerment in the country."
There had been positive outcomes from apprenticeship and entrepreneurial programmes found in the Brac-BIGD studies.
Joydeep Sinha Roy, head of operations at Brac Skills Development Programme, emphasised the importance of "access to jobs" and simultaneously, "retention of jobs" because in many cases women are laid off from jobs first due to the social perception of women being less valued or inefficient workers.
This needs to be challenged and countered through multi level interventions, particularly through policy changes, Roy added.
Tahmid Arif, Program Officer (M&E), Skills 21 Project, International Labor Organization (ILO) strongly emphasized on how we need to shift our focus from training workshops to securing employment for women.
Meanwhile, Jahanara Beauty, Executive Director, Neda Society said that we need to work to create space for women in the market, especially since women are not only facing joblessness due to the pandemic, but also increase in domestic violence and increase in child marriages.
"We need to understand that in the absence of a supportive ecosystem for working women, where will a resilient ecosystem come from?" asked Nobinita Chowdhury, Director, Preventing Violence Against Women Inistiative, Brac Gender Justice and Diversity, Brac.
An exemplary initiative to build a supportive ecosystem for women is Ayesha Abed Foundation's measure to offer couple counselling to households which yielded a decline in domestic violence, according to Chowdhury.