EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech at an online hearing on Covid-19 organised by MEP Samira Rafaela on 28 May 2021.

Covid-19 has woken us up – woken us up to the realities of everyday gender inequalities that our society was already facing, but which often went unnoticed.

Never before have I seen such frequent reports in the media about domestic violence. The effect of lockdown measures has reminded us just how difficult and dangerous it is for the women who live with a violent partner.

The important matter of care and who takes on this essential work, whether it’s paid or unpaid has also received a lot more attention in recent months.

What’s crucial is to understand the different effects that this pandemic is having and will have on Europe’s citizens. For this we need sex-disaggregated data and evidence. EIGE will be playing an important role in carrying out research to obtain the important information that policymakers need to design gender-equal recovery measures. I will tell you more about our plans a bit later.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, EIGE has been raising awareness about some of the gendered impacts that Covid-19 is having on our society. We’ve put together a webpage with information that draws from our existing research and we have also put forward ideas for leaders and decision makers to ensure that the gender perspective is not forgotten when it comes to making important decisions during and after the pandemic.

What we can clearly see is that our healthcare workers, on the frontline of this coronavirus pandemic, have been under unprecedented pressure, working around the clock, putting themselves and their families at risk to care for patients.

Women are potentially more at risk of infection because they make up the majority (76 %) of healthcare workers in the EU.

Although both women and men working in this sector are exposed to the virus, women are potentially more at risk of infection because they make up the majority (76 %) of healthcare workers in the EU.

The formal care sector comes with its challenges in working conditions. People working in the sector are often confronted with high workload, strong emotional demands, irregular working hours, low pay and under-appreciation.

Women are also heavily involved in other forms of essential care work, such as informal caring for people with a disability or older people. As we have seen during this pandemic, our society does not really function without these sectors. Yet the pay and working conditions of these jobs frequently do not reflect their importance.

Despite the growing need for long-term care, there is a shortage of formal carers across the EU. Higher wages and better working conditions could attract more men to the sector.

When it comes to the impact on the economy, our studies show that women are already more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment, receiving lower pay and weaker social protection. Levels of precarious work are particularly high among young women, women with low qualifications and migrant women. 

Women also dominate many of the professions already hit by job losses and freezes as a result of the crisis. For example, women make up 59 % of the tourism workforce across the EU.

We know that people all over Europe have lost their jobs. Initial results from Eurofound’s survey: Living, working and COVID-19 show that more than one-quarter of respondents across the EU at this stage report losing their job either temporarily (23%) or permanently (5%), with young men most affected. Half of those in work are also seeing their working hours reduced, especially in Romania, Italy, France, Cyprus and Greece.

Another issue of concern observed in these times of social isolation has been the increased risk of domestic abuse. Women in violent relationships have been stuck at home and exposed to their abuser for longer periods of time.

Another issue of concern observed in these times of social isolation has been the increased risk of domestic abuse. Women in violent relationships have been stuck at home and exposed to their abuser for longer periods of time.

We do not yet have comparable EU-wide data but some countries have provided initial figures showing a spike in domestic violence during lockdown.

For example, France saw a 32 % jump in domestic violence reports in just over a week period. Lithuania observed 20 % more domestic violence reports over a three-week lockdown period than over the same period in 2019.

Many EU countries reacted swiftly, putting in place counselling support, providing refuge for victims in hotel rooms, launching awareness campaigns or promoting hotline numbers. Yet, the extent of action needed to safeguard victims exposed how insufficient the support measures are even during normal times. For example, the number of beds in women’s shelters is only about half that required under the Istanbul Convention, which 21 EU countries have signed and the EU has committed to accede to.

During this coronavirus pandemic, we mostly see men making all the important decisions. This imbalance of decision-making power means that women are left out from shaping the important decisions that affect their own lives. I want to stress how crucial it is to consult women and have gender-balance in decision-making during crisis situations.

What is EIGE doing?

EIGE is planning to look at the impact of Covid-19 on gender equality from several perspectives:

  • We are preparing a study on the impact of Covid-19 on violence against women. We will examine the different measures Member States took to address the spike in domestic violence and provide recommendations for future crises. We will also provide recommendations on how access to support services can be ensured and how violence can be prevented from happening in the first place.
  • We are planning to look into the economic impacts of Covid-19 from a gender perspective.
  • We plan to gather and publish sex-disaggregated statistics that reflect the impact of the pandemic on women and men. EIGE will assess data from relevant statistical data providers and publish them in our Gender Statistics Database, so we would have a repository of Covid-19 related gender statistics for the EU. The main sources to consider are EU bodies and agencies such as Eurofound, EU Joint Research Center and FRA.
  • The upcoming Gender Equality Index, which we plan to publish in October this year will offer some preliminary evidence on the implications of the Covid-19 crisis for digitalisation and gender equality.
  • Next year, EIGE’s Gender Equality Index will have a special focus on health. It will look into the gender impacts of pandemics – in particular Covid-19. It will dig into key challenges, and the gender inequalities that arise. It will also look at which groups of women and men are the most vulnerable during these situations, and will explore policy measures that can best tackle these inequalities.

The Covid-19 crisis has woken us up and now there’s an opportunity for governments to put gender equality high up on the political agenda and put in place lasting measures to improve gender equality in the long run.