The COVID-19 crisis has not only made the world's existing inequalities even more evident; it has even deepened them. Women face a heavy burden of unpaid and care work, loss of income and jobs, and make up a more significant portion of the poor. This article will discuss the growing gender gap in employment and the effects of the pandemic on the gender gap in the Latin American region.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women have suffered losses in employment and income. The sectors most affected by the pandemic are those most represented, and many of the female employees work on the front line of the pandemic. Women still do most of the unpaid care work and, at the same time, are responsible for sustaining care systems, households and the domestic economy.
As we can see from the graph, employment declined considerably for both sexes during the first year of the pandemic. The drop in female participation was more significant than male participation and is well below half of total employment. The lock-ins affected sectors such as maquila and services where more women are employed and often working in informal work arrangements. There exist sexual gaps in time spent on unpaid care work, limited access to social protection and the upsurge in violence and harassment. These have made it more difficult for women to retain employment than men.
The female job loss rate in the region is about 6 per cent, while the male rate is only about 3 per cent. Data from the COVID-19 Labour Observatory of the Inter-American Development Bank indicate that the drop in female and male employment differs by over 5% in Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Although women's weight in the labour market is lower (46% of the employed population before the pandemic), 58.5% of the jobs lost were precisely those performed by the female population.
ILO projections show bleak prospects for women in the region, noting that employment growth lacks the necessary intensity to recover pre-pandemic levels in 2022. However, the Latin American area suffered from these changes and the entire American continent. The Americas was the region with the most significant reduction in the number of women employed due to the pandemic, aggravated by automation (cashiers in supermarkets, bank counters, among others).
Between 2019 and 2020, women's employment in the Americas declined by 9.4% compared to a 7% decline in male employment. The decline in female employment reversed the progress observed over the past 15 years resulting from better educational opportunities for women, greater availability of formal jobs in the service sector, migration from rural to urban areas and lower fertility.
According to the US Census Bureau, in the United States alone, women earn about 30 per cent less than men. The wage gap increases with age. Suppose this were true for Latin America, while women are increasingly present in higher-paying industries, such as information or professional, scientific and technical services. In that case, they remain over-represented in lower-paying sectors.
During the pandemic, women provide essential work in the health and social work sector and other critical occupations. It often means that they put their own lives at risk by facing a double burden: longer shifts at work and additional care work at home.
While the pandemic meant an increased demand for care for men and women, women often take on the lion's share of this work. It caused women who remained employed to reduce their paid working hours or extend their total hours of employment (paid and unpaid) to unsustainable levels.
Finally, women are over-employed, with longer shifts in paid employment, high unemployment and increased care work in the home by COVID-19. With lower wages coupled with less formal employment, women's status has deteriorated so far in the pandemic.
 Obela, Faculty of Economics, UNAM