March 18, 2021 | Thursday

Women’s unequal burden of an economic crisis – Dita Dobranja

Inequalities worldwide have been widened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing countries are lagging behind the developed countries in receiving vaccines; children from poorer families are more likely to not have access to tools for online education; and women everywhere have had to deal with a multiple-fold increase in care work as well as a higher likelihood of losing their employment.

Kosovo is no different. At the onset of the pandemic, the labour market conditions in Kosovo show a clear divide between men and women. While the unemployment rate for men stood at around 23% it was at 34% for women.[1] Even worse, women’s employment rate – the share of women that are employed – is below 14%, while for men, it was at 46%. These less than ideal conditions were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictive measures set by the government have impacted the economy overall and employment specifically.

In the data published up to the third quarter of 2020, it is clear that the impact of the pandemic has been not only in worsening the situation in terms of employment, but even more so in discouraging workers. Women in Kosovo have the lowest labour force participation rate, at less than 20% even in times of economic growth. During the period of the largest lockdown and the quarter following the lockdown, women’s labour force participation rate fell to less than 18%. The decline in economic activity for women and their exposure to higher risks in the labour market have been noted in Kosovo as well.

First, women are more likely to work in sectors that have been affected most by the pandemic and especially in sectors that have the highest level of risk of exposure. Of all employed women in Kosovo 20% work in the education sector; 19% in retail trade; and 14% in healthcare activities.[2] All three sectors have been highly impacted by the pandemic and have a high level of exposure. Moreover, studies show that around 30% of women working in the private sector, prior to the pandemic, have worked without a contract. In times of crisis, when employment cuts are a must, it is usually those who are employed without contracts that are let go, making women in the private sector in Kosovo highly vulnerable to these cuts. 

Second, women are burdened with care and household work, something that has drastically increased during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, women in Kosovo, regardless of their employment status, have worked more than 3 hours in household and care work. This figure is even higher for women who are married and have children. With the pandemic, there has been an increase in the demand and the need for care work, especially caring for children and aging family members. Women are disproportionately responsible for providing this care.

A 2016, Riinvest Institute study shows that around 78% of women are solely responsible for childcare in their households.[3] Prior to the pandemic, women have worked more than 10 hours daily, in both paid and unpaid work, these numbers have likely increased significantly after the pandemic has started. Switching to online learning for children, has also contributed to an increased engagement of women in helping children learn. Women, therefore, have become even more time poor during the past year. The likelihood that women give up paid work to tend to care duties is much higher than for men, thus making women more prone to losing their income and economic independence.

Third, women are more likely to be discouraged to search for jobs in times of economic uncertainty. As the figures above show, women in Kosovo are already highly discouraged from participating in the labour market even in times of regular economic activity. Given the abovementioned issues, it is more likely for women to give up on searching for jobs when they are unemployed, and wait for the economic situation to improve before returning to the labour market.

Women’s economic position in Kosovo has been a problem even before the pandemic started, however, both the health and care crisis, and the economic crisis have exacerbated the delicate position women have been in for the past 20 years. Economic policies and the institutional approach to economic recovery need to keep into consideration the disproportionate impact that the crisis has had.

Policies need to be developed as targeted responses to sectors that are expected to lead to further economic development. In this aspect, the policies of training and retraining of the workforce, subsidizing salaries for practical work, etc. should be considered.

Kosovo Agency of Statistics, Kosovo Tax Administration, and Employment Agency, need to start publishing disaggregated data on a sectoral basis, as well as by gender and age, to enable the detailed drafting of the economic development strategy aiming to improve economic opportunities for all groups in society.

In addition, active fiscal policies should be considered along with public investment aimed at stimulating the hardest hit sectors and sectors that employ the most vulnerable groups, such as women and youth.

The establishment of a wage subsidy scheme (given as a direct subsidy on wages, or as a reduction of taxes) can serve as a good bridge to the existing gaps in the market. One way of designing these programs is to support new hires from companies, but specifying that new hires from groups that are under-represented in the labour market will be subsidized.

Another policy implemented in times of crisis is the short-term or part-time employment of workers by more than one firm in certain sectors. Incentives for firms to create employment opportunities with short-term contracts, although in the long run this is undesirable, can be a good way to provide job opportunities for the unemployed, even if not permanent jobs. This would benefit women specifically, given the time constraints they face.

Dita Dobranja

Economic expert in economic research, private sector development, and labour market analysis.

[1] Kosovo Agency of Statistics, Labour Force Survey, 2019

[2] Kosovo Agency of Statistics, Labour Force Survey, Q1, Q2, Q3, 2020

[3] Riinvest Institute – Women in the Workforce, 2016