The youth were the hardest hit by the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, according to EIGE’s research. EIGE Director Carlien Scheele addressed how the generation of tomorrow can be better equipped for the future at the Europe of Tomorrow conference in Prague on 3 October 2022…

Good morning.  

It’s a pleasure to be here with you all today. In person, no less. Let’s not take that for granted!  

I would like to begin by stating the obvious.   

The pandemic has affected us in more ways than one.  

Two years later, our focus has shifted, but life as we knew it has changed. 

Now, before I dive into EIGE’s knowledge base which is based on the most recent data and research on the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on gender equality, I want you to know that the gendered impact of the pandemic should be treated as a temporary glitch. That is to say, it’s not too late to reverse the regression and put ourselves back on the path of progression.  

But first, we need to know where we currently stand and why.  

Let me take you back to a typical day, not too long ago, during the height of lockdown.  

You have a family of two parents and three children in the living room of their two-bedroom apartment.  

That living room has been divided up into many makeshift spaces:  an office for the parents, a primary school for the twins, a day-care for the two-year old and with whatever space remains, it’s a place to eat, relax or watch TV.  

There’s so much going on at the same time. It’s overwhelming.  

And while many in this scenario did their best to make a difficult situation, a little less difficult by rising to the occasion and equalising their share of responsibilities, we actually saw a rise in something else.  A rise in pre-existing gender differences.   

Because EIGE’s COVID-19 Survey from 2021 revealed that… 

The pandemic led to more intense childcare demands for parents, particularly those with jobs. Nearly a fifth of working parents have spent more time on childcare during the pandemic than before.  

But more than half of women with small children say they are completely or mostly responsible for childcare in their household.  

And as you can imagine, responsibilities are never in isolation – life just doesn’t work like that. Childcare sits alongside other demands like housework or long-term unpaid care. It all adds up. And if it’s not shared equally, it becomes a pressure cooker.  

During the pandemic, we found that the distribution of household chores between partners changed – with most women reporting having a higher share of housework on their plate. Imagine doing the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the laundry, an important work project, then taking care of home-schooling and then cooking dinner – and just when you could really do with a break for yourself, a relative with an ongoing illness requires care. Your hands are tied.  

And that's for two-parent families. Imagine the toll on single parent families... right now there are 6 million single parents in the EU where, most of them are women. 

Thankfully, the proposed EU care strategy has come at the right time, to address these issues and hopefully help lighten the load for everyone with an action plan for affordable early childhood education and care as well accessible, high-quality long-term care.

We need robust care systems in place where external support is given as an option, because then it offers more freedom of choice to lead a fuller life. Like the choice to re-engage with a passion project or attend social activities, while domestic duties are still carried out – where partners have a more realistic chance to share care. 

In fact, our survey showed that both women and men report higher satisfaction rates when childcare is shared equally with their partner.   

So, you see, legislation is needed.  

I’ve given you just a small taster here today. The impact of the pandemic on care is a focus in our upcoming Index report – our annual measure of the EU’s progress towards Gender Equality – which is going to be further unpacked at EIGE’s first ever Gender Equality Forum on 24-25th October both in person in Brussels and via web-streaming – you can find out more details on our social media channels.  

Now - let’s turn to the generation of tomorrow. The youth. Who are worried about what tomorrow is going to look like because of what today looks like.  

I painted you a picture of what a typical family went through in the pandemic, now let me do the same for a fresh University graduate.  

By day, they work at a salon, by night, at a bar.  They scrape whatever time they have in between to send off job applications. It’s not an ideal situation but they’ve got the drive and energy to make it work. I’m sure you can recall that relentless determination at the beginning of your career!  

At any given point in time, it’s a challenge for young people to get their foot in the door – not least when all the doors seem to be slamming shut all at once, where overnight dreams are dashed, hope is flat, and uncertainty seems like the only certainty. And that’s exactly what happened in the pandemic.  

EIGE’s forthcoming policy brief on the youth presents a unanimous conclusion: young women and men were hit the hardest.  

And yet, the youth are the ones who have to face the future more than any of us. But what we saw in the fallout of the pandemic is that existing inequalities between women and men were aggravated. 

Take the gendered barriers in the labour market, as an example. Even though young women continue to achieve high levels of education, the employment rate of women who have recently graduated from tertiary education, remains lower than men. That impact is even greater for women with a migrant background – who experienced a greater increase in unemployment during the pandemic.   

Also, the pay gap still exists and now, persists – and then widens with age, causing a precarious ripple effect into pension years. 

For a generation who want to be architects of change, this reality won’t support their dreams.  

Solutions need to help galvanise the youth into action. We will have young people at our Forum in October to discuss these and other challenges they face.  We have to be active listeners.

And these solutions need to keep gender equality in focus, both in policy and in practice.  

I began by saying that the pandemic has affected us in more ways than one. I want to bookend that by saying we need to understand the different ways the pandemic has affected different groups of people for a successful recovery – for both our economies and our societies.      

It is up to us to bridge gendered gaps and to move forward together towards a stronger, more resilient and inclusive economy. And I am excited to see so many brilliant minds and can-doers joining forces under one roof - who no doubt, can lead the charge for change.  

(I wish you a successful conference!) 

Thank you.  

Further information

Learn more about the connections between Covid-19 and gender equality

Report: Gender equality and the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Policy brief: Young women and men in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic