At the beginning of phase 2 in Italy, 72% of those who returned to work on May 4 were men. The majority went back to their jobs in industry, manufacturing and construction. So, what about the women? Many of then stayed at home to take care of the children and they do not know when – or if – they will get back to work.
Even though two thirds of female workers continued with their jobs during the emergency, as the post-Covid recovery begins they now find themselves amongst the most vulnerable. This was indeed the case also during the lockdown with the large numbers of women in healthcare roles and retail. Despite appearing to be less susceptible to the virus, they were the most exposed to it.
As the country gradually opens up again, problems are emerging which could be quite a wake-up call. According to a report by the World Bank, the sectors where unemployment is expected to rise sharply are those where there is a high concentration of female workers. Receptionists, domestic workers, flight attendants, waitresses, sales assistants, hairdressers and beauticians: these are sectors where bargaining power is typically weak and the first job cuts are already occurring.
Even though two thirds of female workers continued with their jobs during the emergency, as the post-Covid recovery begins they now find themselves amongst the most vulnerable
With schools closed and the children at home, those women who carried on working remotely found themselves burdened with childcare, household chores and the difficult task of balancing their private lives with work. In many cases this created stress, friction and reduced career opportunities. According to a survey by the CGIL (national trade union), men are more satisfied than women with their smart working arrangements – women often had to share their devices so the children could follow school lessons remotely.
Not surprisingly when Syndo interviewed a sample of 1,500 people, 14% of women said they would probably give up their jobs because of the demands of family life. This figure is confirmed by 10% of men who indicated that their wives or companions were thinking of resigning from their jobs to take care of the children and the household.
Women are much less satisfied than men with their smart working experience as they have the bulk of family care duties
The figures published by The Lily, a Washington Post publication covering gender topics, paint a similar picture. Andy Casey, an astrophysics research fellow at Monash University, analysed the number of draft papers that had been submitted and found that there were 50% fewer submissions from female researchers during lockdown. The burden of running the family falls upon women for up to 1.5 hours a day in North America and 5.5 hours in southern Asia. This burden increases for single parents and in Europe 85% of them are women.
A report by Save the Children entitled “Le equilibriste: la maternità in Italia 2020” (Tightrope walkers: motherhood in Italy 2020) shows that “mothers in Italy are failing to overcome hurdles to their careers such as taking care of the family. The burden of care forces many of them to make a clear choice between work and family life.” This already critical situation was “further exacerbated by the Covid-19 emergency, particularly in the case of the 3 million women with at least one small child (under 15 years of age) who account for 30% of the female workforce of 9,872,000. In recent times, 3 out of 4 mothers interviewed (74.1%) said that their domestic workload had increased. And as phase 3 begins, working mothers (6% of the Italian population) could find themselves at the greatest disadvantage.
The government’s recent ‘Decreto Rilancio’ (relaunch decree) includes the “right to smart working” for those who have children under 14 years of age even when an agreement with the employer is not in place. One of the provisions designed to support families increases special leave from 15 to 30 days. Parents of children up to 12 years of age are eligible to take up this opportunity until July 31 and will receive 50% of their usual salary from the INPS (National Institute for Social Insurance). The self-employed are entitled to the same opportunity. Alternatively, the INPS offers parents of children under 12 a childcare allowance of 1,200 euro towards day care or summer camps.
Although both parents are entitled to special leave, women are most often the ones who take it. Many of the jobs done by women are often on short-term and lower paid contracts and when a choice has to be made, the higher salary is the usual option. All these indications create cause for alarm, particularly in a country like Italy where women are the least represented in the workforce of any European country. Above all in these times of crisis, Italy cannot do without its female workforce.