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UNECE launches initiative to support internationally-comparable data collection on COVID-19 impact on gender equality

From the very beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, it has been clear that there is a gender dimension to its impacts. This week the Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians will ask UNECE to lead the way in guiding countries to gather data on the ways that gender mediates the pandemic’s long term effects.

While men appear to be more vulnerable to serious illness and death from the virus than women, the wider consequences of the pandemic are taking a disproportionate toll on women: from greater exposure to possible infection in the workplace, to economic outcomes, to broader social repercussions.

Women make up a large share of the care and service staff on the front lines of the immediate crisis response: doctors, nurses, care home staff and medical service technicians. As schools and nurseries closed, women with children have shouldered a majority of the increased burden of childcare, domestic work and home-schooling, while many in the teaching and childcare professions, disproportionately staffed by women, find themselves out of work. More mothers than fathers have reduced their working hours or left their jobs altogether to care for children during school closures. And with more women than men in the lower-paid service jobs that have been worst hit by the crisis, women’s employment has taken a massive hit. As lockdowns have kept people inside their homes, concerns have been raised about the increased potential for gender-based violence and the heightened challenges for those attempting to escape it.

Quantifying these differences with official statistics is crucial to elevate such observations from speculation or anecdotes to measurable facts that can drive policy responses. This need for numbers has placed gender statistics at the forefront of National Statistical Offices’ responses to the crisis.

In the run-up to World Statistics Day on 20 October, this week’s UNECE online meetings on gender statistics have offered countries across the region a platform to showcase their variety of quick-fire responses to this urgent need to generate data.

In the Republic of Moldova new questions have been added to existing surveys to measure impacts of the pandemic on health, work, education and financial status, while in the United States new ‘pulse surveys’ on these topics were deployed at speed.

In Ireland, a new survey on the ‘Social impact of Covid-19 on Women and Men’ was developed, revealing some stark gender differences. In 2018 the share of women and of men reporting low overall life satisfaction was below 10 per cent; by April 2020, this had risen to 22 per cent for men and to a staggering 37 per cent for women in Ireland.

The Italian National Statistical Institute reported analysis of data from calls to a national domestic abuse helpline between March and June 2020, revealing an increase of almost 120 per cent over the same period in the previous year; while requests for help made via a chat tool increased more than fivefold, reflecting the challenges of making telephone calls for help when household members are in lockdown together.

The social and economic impacts of Covid-19 will last far longer than the pandemic itself. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has cautioned that the retrograde steps for gender equality could take years to be undone, unless concerted efforts are made now. These efforts will be driven by gender data, which must be gathered and disseminated at higher speed and greater frequency than before the pandemic, and which will need to be comparable over time and between countries. Recognizing the need for practical guidance to support countries in this endeavour, the UNECE Steering Group on Gender Statistics, a group of 25 experts which guides the region’s gender statistics work, is developing a minimum set of suggested questions for data producers to add to household surveys, such as household budget and expenditure surveys or labour force surveys, to capture the way that gender inequalities in the impacts of the pandemic manifest themselves in the medium and long term.