Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has undone women's progress from numerous dimensions but mainly in the economic sphere. The greatest impacts were observed in sectors where women are overrepresented, leading to unemployment and unpaid work.
This reality has particularly affected Paraguay, where due to the current crisis, we see that gender gaps in the labor market, already existing before the pandemic, have been exacerbated.
According to the Paraguay High-Frequency Survey (a WB initiative), more than half of women reported losing their jobs in May 2020, at the very onset of the pandemic, compared to 35% for men. Moreover, men recovered more quickly.
The Encuesta Permanente de Hogares (EPH) shows unemployment rates for women reaching 10.2 percent in 2020Q4, corresponding to a -2.3 percentage points decrease from 2019Q4 (compared to men at 4.9 percent, which decreased by only 0.8 percentage points).
The weight of unpaid work
Even before the pandemic, unpaid work affected young Paraguayan women's ability to enter the labor market, constrained women's ability to spend time earning an income, and prevented women in abusive relationships from exiting those given their economic dependence on their aggressor. Moreover, compared to men in Paraguay, women are loaded with a higher proportion of domestic and unpaid work, including care work for household members.
On average, unpaid work represented close to 14.7 hours of each day for women, compared to 6.4 hours for men, according to the Encuesta del Uso del Tiempo from 2016.
The impact of carrying out unpaid work on a person's ability to participate in the labor market is clear. Almost half (48.1.%) of women who are inactive report that they do not work or look for a job because they do household chores and housekeeping. In the case of men, less than 1 in 10 is in this situation. The imbalances of unpaid work are more pronounced in rural households, where women spent 16.2 more hours in these activities than their male counterparts (World Bank, 2020).
A not so encouraging outlook
First, adolescent girls are severely restricted in their opportunities by taking on unpaid work in their households from very early ages. This is likely to increase gender opportunities gaps since girls are more likely to assume household chores and family care.
In Paraguay, girls and young women (ages 14-24 years) spend 20.5 hours on unpaid work compared to 9.7 hours of men of the same age . In fact, 33.8 percent of Paraguayan women ages 15-29 do not work or study (compared with 6.1% of boys). While they are typically known as NINIs as per the Spanish term ni trabajan – ni estudian, this concept is clearly misleading. Most of those young women in the region do carry out work, but they do so on domestic and unpaid activities.
Second, rural women who are particularly disadvantaged across several dimensions, such as unpaid work, will be hit harder by the pandemic.
The vulnerability of these women due to their economic dependency, low access to education and health, reduced economic opportunities and credit, as well as the low rates of possession of productive assets, among others, will most likely be exacerbated by the crisis and its consequences on the use of their time.
The total time spent on unpaid activities is greater in rural areas, mainly due to agricultural activities for self-consumption, compared to urban areas. In fact, 24% of rural women are non-remunerated family workers, leaving them in a very vulnerable situation.
Finally, the crisis's effects will limit women's capacity to earn an income and be economically independent, and, overall, to lead autonomous lives. Women who are economically fully dependent on someone –often their partner – may have very low chances of exiting abusive relationships.
For example, the Ministry of Women's emergency service registered 50% more calls in March 2020, compared to the same month of the previous year, which makes the other pandemic visible: the increase in cases of gender violence in the country.
What can be done?
Over the post-pandemic period, policies are needed that provide care services and promote sharing of unpaid domestic and care work between men and women.
To attenuate the pandemic's effects to widen the gender gaps in Paraguay, addressing the burden of unpaid work will go hand-in-hand with women's advancement in the labor market and require advancing their position in society more broadly and improving their agency.
It is necessary:
- To raise awareness about the importance of women's participation in society, especially among girls.
- To address the burden of caring for family members as a joint effort between society and the government.
- Promote initiatives that aim to offer public options for care.
Recognizing the full value of women's use of time would greatly reward them, their families, and Paraguayan society in general.