Policy brief

An uneven and gender-unequal COVID-19 recovery: Update on gender and employment trends 2021

The COVID-19 crisis caused unprecedented job losses, hitting women the hardest, particularly in middle-income countries. The COVID-19 recovery is proving both uneven and gender-unequal, as women’s employment recovery is lagging behind men’s.

The COVID-19 crisis caused unprecedented job losses, hitting women the hardest. Women’s employment-to-population ratios declined proportionally more than men’s for all country income level groups, particularly in middle-income countries. Therefore, gender gaps in employment-to-population ratios have increased in 2020. Loss of employment has mostly resulted in economic inactivity, for young women in particular.

Women’s over-representation in hard-hit sectors explains their relatively greater employment losses as compared to men’s.

Evidence from selected countries also indicates that the greater the employment losses experienced by a country, the more than proportionally women were affected. Women’s job losses were relatively lower in countries where policies like job retention schemes were put in place to minimize the loss of employment.

Young women are shouldering the worst of the employment crisis, as roughly two times as many young women lost their jobs as did young men.

Emerging evidence suggests new care responsibilities constrained women’s labour force participation during the pandemic and forced many to quit paid employment altogether.

The ILO projects that women’s employment will still remain below pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021. Neither women’s nor men’s employment-to-population ratios are expected to have fully recovered by the end of 2021. Gender gaps will remain slightly above their 2019 levels.

The ''Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient'' calls for gender-responsive employment policies, particularly macroeconomic, sectoral and active labour market policies that address effectively the gender-specific effects of the COVID-19 crisis and support the creation of full and productive employment for women and men, including in the care sector.