Today, 8 March, marks the International Women’s Day. It’s the day when we should all renew our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 5—achieving gender equality.
For us, every day is Women’s Day.
At the regional inclusive and green economic development program, RECONOMY, one of our main target groups is women. We aim to enable women and youth to increase their incomes and uptake decent jobs.
Let us first walk you through the problems women in Eastern Europe are facing, then dive into what we’re doing to ensure the inclusion of women in economic development.
Migration and the impact on women
Shifting population dynamics have important implications for women's economic empowerment. The reason for the population decline is not that people don’t want to have children, but it is due to economic instability and gender inequalities. All these concerns access to and insufficiency of support systems like childcare options, and the difficulty of reconciling work and family duties.
Although the trend is changing, on average, more men migrate than women. This leaves women with more burden of taking care of families and livelihoods. For instance, men represent more than 70 percent of Ukrainian labor migrants. Only migration to Italy has a different gender composition, with more than 70 percent of migrants to Italy being women. At the same time, labor participation of women is low, which increases the total labor underutilization rate of women.
Despite improvements, the world of work is very much a man’s world. Gender gaps are serious challenges facing the world of work—both in terms of unequal access to the labor market and unequal working conditions. Generally, men outnumber women in jobs. They are 75 percent more likely to participate in the labor market than women.
Policies aimed at addressing the issue should include the provision of care facilities for children and the elderly, increased flexibility in work schedules, and greater part-time employment opportunities. Perhaps most important are the measures that raise the opportunities for education of women and promote positive societal and cultural attitudes towards working women.
Having said this, the gender pay disparity remains to be one of the most persistent forms of discrimination, although countries have made noteworthy progress in women's education achievement and labor market engagement. Being paid less than men for doing the same or similar work in the same or similar conditions puts women in an unfair position from the very beginning. This is despite the equal proportion of skills, responsibilities, and working conditions. Occupational segregation also leads to undervaluing of work typically done by women. And this is the case not only in developing countries but also in those high-performing ones. This is, in short, economic violence.
The 12 countries in the regions of the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, and South Caucasus have made good progress towards women's economic empowerment. Yet, women still face important institutional, economic, and social barriers that maintain gender disparities, such as laws prohibiting women from taking up certain job occupations. Gender stereotypes that emphasize the role of women as the main caregivers and that of men as the main breadwinners remain deeply ingrained in some countries and they appear to be a strong reason for female inactivity and low participation in the labor market, especially concerning rural women and those from socially excluded groups. For instance, in Armenia, while women have relatively long maternity leave of 140 days, the country does not have legal provisions that stipulate equal remuneration for work of equal value irrespective of gender, ethnic background, and other characteristics, nor is there an explicit prohibition of gender discrimination in the labor law.
COVID-19 impact on women
The 12 countries are particularly vulnerable now that we’re in a pandemic crisis. This has made the regions volatile, implying the erosion of competitiveness and meaningful improvements in the wellbeing of the populations, mainly for the vulnerable like women, who are disproportionately affected. They fall behind, either in real terms of income and employment, or uncertainties related to expectations of future income and vulnerability to shocks.
Existing inequalities for women get worse. They are typically hired into low-skilled, low-productivity jobs, often in the informal economy, thus direct support to the informal economy and women-led businesses is especially critical in the time of pandemic and RECONOMY places great emphases on this issue.
For instance, women face serious challenges and additional burdens due to unpaid work—their disproportionate role in the care economy. Also due to the wage gap, lack of services such as childcare, legal barriers to own property, weak social protections, and the digital divide. These factors prevent women from getting and accessing opportunities for productive employment. And COVID-19 has made these factors even more visible. As women take on greater care demands at home, their jobs will most like be affected by lay-offs, limiting their ability to support themselves and their families, especially for single female households.
Moreover, insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieving SDG 5.
This is probably the most obvious takeaway from the pandemic. Gender-responsive economic and social policies should be at the core of the pandemic response and recovery plans of each country.
Walk the talk...
Women are excluded from economic development. Many of them lack the resources, opportunities, voice, knowledge, and skills to find decent jobs and better income generation sources. The longer they face barriers to entry into the job market and remain unemployed, the harder it becomes to succeed. The focus of RECONOMY is on identifying constraining factors on the systemic level rather than exclusively on the level of individual enterprises or people.
Unemployment, mainly for women, is a serious economic, social and political challenge. The pandemic is a crisis within a crisis for women and other vulnerable groups, both in rural and urban areas. The economic impacts are felt widely, but unevenly. The virus doesn’t only threaten biologically but also worsens inequalities among those who are already disadvantaged and vulnerable.
We’re aware that inclusive economic development is a noble cause but hard to deliver in practice. Our aim, therefore, doesn't simply ensure equal numbers of women and men and social groups in all interventions or treat all in the same way.
RECONOMY’s vision and strategy to addressing gender is driven by the Market Systems Development approach, in particular integrating Women’s Economic Empowerment into the approach. Not just within RECONOMY, but also in Helvetas in general, we strive towards a gender-balanced, strongly socially aware, and capable workforce. We are committed to integrating and monitoring gender in our policies, procedures, strategies, interventions, and tools. Our commitment is ‘nothing about them without them’. It means that we put our target groups, including women, at the center of the design and implementation of the regional program, RECONOMY.
“This is a man's world; This is a man's world, But it wouldn't be nothing, Nothing without a woman or a girl.”
Let every day be a women’s day!