Emily Eason and Matthew Vedrin
Governments are acting to advance economies from the hard hit of Covid-19, yet only around 12% of the fiscal and economic measures they have taken are “gender sensitive” and contribute directly to women’s economic security. This article uses indicators of healthcare, home care, and labour market position to argue that the Argentinian government produces more favourable outcomes for women compared to its Mexican counterpart.
Female health provision, including pregnancy-related care, is heavily affected by a global pandemic. Postpartum depression and baby birth weight differences before and after the pandemic serve as indicators of the impact of gender (un)equal healthcare provision. pandemic has boosted the stereotyped perception of women’s capabilities being restricted to doing household tasks, thereby, has worsened gender inequalities. Nevertheless, the gender gap in the labour market may have widened given the effects of the world’s worst recession since WWII, caused by Covid-19.
Statistics related to the Mexican health system indicate a poor healthcare outlook; an estimated 8.74 million patient visits were forgone, with a 79% decrease in breast cancer screenings. Moreover, maternal mortality increased by more than 60% in one year, while Covid-19 was linked to 25.4% of maternal deaths overall. The potent impact on female-related medical provision, is representative of the system’s inequalities. Although there has been some economic improvement since June, men are returning to the Mexican job market at a higher rate than women. When women do return, it is under poor working conditions and without social security. This is partly due to the responsibility of homestead work and care falling mainly on women: women dedicate 64% of their hours a week to housework, compared to only 24% by men. Between April and July 2020, the proportion of female employees climbed from 14% to 23%, while the proportion of unpaid female workers doubled. In fact, Mexico is one of the Latin American nations with the highest gender disparity in time spent on unpaid domestic labor since women often forgo their careers to fulfill tasks around the home. Therefore, the formal workplace ignores the necessity of providing acceptable working conditions to women, and even exploits competition among the small proportion who do return to work to cut costs and grow profit margins.
On the labour market front, 53% of female employees are concentrated in sectors that have been the most negatively affected by the pandemic. 53% of employed women work in the service industry, compared to 36% of employed men. Thus, a larger proportion were made worse off compared to men. Additionally, remote work favors men over women; at the highest income level, three out of every 10 workers are men employed in remote jobs, while there are only two women of the same type. This suggests that their prospects are unlikely to improve, and that the gender gap is likely to widen. On a more positive note, 71% of the beneficiaries of Tandas para Bienestar, a government initiative that provides productive 0% interest loans to individuals who have operated a small business for at least six months, are women. This will, hopefully, boost their capacity for growth in the labour market.
Coming to Argentina, it is important to recognise that prior to the pandemic, the Argentinian government had been improving opportunities for women since the 1980s, with quota reforms (introduced in the early 2000s) solidifying the increase in women elected in both houses of Congress. Therefore, one would expect that Argentinian women fared relatively well during Covid, if increased political representation translates into the formation of more policies that focus on their interests and needs. Unsurprisingly, Argentina has rolled out more gender-sensitive COVID-response measures than any other country. Mercedes D’Alessandro is advocating the improvement of economic prospects for women through recovery efforts, including expanding care infrastructure, encouraging more women to work male- dominated industries and vice versa, and adding flexibility for parents to work remotely.
During the pandemic, Argentina’s free public health system equalised access to healthcare. Gender-sensitive measures, including building public hospitals that prioritise the protection of pregnant women during the pandemic, contributed to better baby birth weight outcomes. Moreover, Argentinian scholars were among the first to study depression changes in pregnant women during the pandemic. Statistically, social isolation increased postpartum depression in 37% and insomnia in 46% of women. Given the general interest in protecting women’s wellbeing, a potential policy response to these conditions is the greater consideration of females’ mental health issues during the decision-making process.
On the other hand, while paid work has become more equitable, men spend more daily hours doing paid work and leisure activities compared to women, who spend more daily hours doing housework, childcare, and homeschooling. Specifically, women dedicate 2.3 more hours per day to childcare than men. In addition to this, 77% of people over 60 who need care to perform basic activities regularly receive help from a family member in Argentina. Traditionally, this role is filled by women, so we can expect women to spend more time caring for the elderly during the pandemic as well.
So then, who fares better? Although women in Argentina fare better in the healthcare and labor market aspects, home responsibility falls primarily on women in both countries. While both countries have room to progress in all three regards, on aggregate, Argentina fares better than Mexico in terms of provisions for females during the pandemic.
Cover Image Source: Gender Equality (6066) – The Noun Project.svg icon from the Noun Project via Wikimedia Commons
The authors, Emily Eason and Matthew Vedrin, are undergraduate students at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.