Kristalina Georgieva, IMF’s Managing Director, recently hosted a virtual conversation with Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as part of IMF’s The Exchange series. The conversation covered the importance of policies that promote gender equality during the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and how working mothers with young children were the biggest casualties from the Covid crisis, especially the less-educated mothers who suffered the largest job losses and cuts in working hours, due to school closures and a larger burden of unpaid work.
Now, women are returning to work, but at a much slower pace than any other group. Well-designed policies can attenuate the impact on women and help fully integrate them into the workforce.
“There has been a troubling sign that the recession is a “She-cession,” that women’s jobs are more severely impacted than those of men. New research from the Fund finds that the more accurate term may be “Mom-cessions” that women with young children, mothers, particularly less educated ones, were the most adversely affected group during the crisis,” said Georgieva. “We mustn’t allow gender equality to slip back. We have to advance policies that can not only help women recover from the crisis but also strengthen their position in society and their contribution to our economies.”
Freeland shared that in Canada, mothers working in low-wage jobs have been the hardest hit by the pandemic as it has been a triple challenge for them. They are often the essential workers who couldn’t work from home and had to expose themselves to COVID-19 danger to get their jobs done. They also couldn’t stay at home as their own children struggled with virtual schooling. And when they got sick, it was challenging for them to self-isolate in homes that aren’t that big.
“The data shows this is a pretty common situation. You know, the single group of people who have been the hardest hit by this are low wage working mothers. And in putting together our budget, here it is. You see the cover and the cover says a lot about what’s in it. In our budget, one of our starting points was this is a group that has been hard hit. We have to lift this group up in order to restart our whole economy,” said Freeland.
Canada is putting a lot of emphasis on early learning and childcare in its current budget. It is one of the centerpiece policies that the government is committing $30 billion to over the next five years. They are also committing $9 billion a year to build a universal, affordable system of early learning and childcare across Canada.
“There still can be a bias to kind of say, well, real interest, real infrastructure investment that drives real jobs and growth that has to be physical infrastructure. It has to be something done by men wearing hard hats and gloves, you know, building a bridge that’s an infrastructure investment that’s going to drive economic growth. Building a daycare center that’s just for the ladies, that’s not actually real economic policy. And you and I know that’s not the case. Building a daycare center is a huge driver of economic growth for us in Canada. We’ve already seen it in Quebec, which has a system of affordable early learning and childcare universally across the province, and they have seen it has boosted women’s labor force participation and boosted economic growth,” added Freeland.
On that point, Managing Director Georgieva added that IMF staff have provided 114 countries with gender budgeting training in recent years, and in 2020, 58 countries have invested in gender budgeting training with the IMF.
“Everywhere, gender-based budgeting helps in advanced economies, in particular by advancing early childhood development and making it possible for women to count on it. In developing countries, it is more around rural roads, safety of transportation, so women can go to work without fear of being attacked or raped, which unfortunately is still a problem in many, many less secure places. But when you look at the budget with this gender lens, you come up with a different direction of your scarce public resources that open up more contribution of women,” Georgieva emphasized.
She also added that moving forward gender equality must be put in the front seat and that feminist policies are great economic policies.
“Here is our message we must not allow gender equality to slip back. We have to advance policies that could not only help women recover from the crisis, but also strengthen their position in society and their contribution to our economies,” said Georgieva.