Updated: Apr 12
By Taofeekat Adigun
The Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) is a network of young experts advocating for gender equality and the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people across the Commonwealth. Following her participation at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s virtual Commonwealth Youth Parliament in December 2020, Taofeekat Adigun reflects on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on employment opportunities for youth, women, LGBTQ+ people and BAME communities.
One of the key issues discussed at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s first-ever virtual Commonwealth Youth Parliament (CYP) was COVID-19 and Unemployment. Rightfully so, given the impacts COVID-19 have had on the economy. I represented the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) as an expert witness for a committee session of the CYP and had the pleasure of discussing the disrupting impacts of COVID-19 on employment for youth; women; LGBTQ+ people; Black Asian, and Minority ethnic (BAME) communities; and people living with disabilities with fellow youth delegates from across the Commonwealth.
Sadly, the youth workforce has been vulnerable to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The various responses taken to fight the pandemic have resulted in economic shutdowns across the globe. Industries employing the majority of working youth and women such as retail, food services, hospitality and travel were hit hardest by the pandemic leaving millions unemployed and out of work. According to a preliminary assessment report by The International Labor Organization, COVID-19 has increased unemployment and underemployment, while widening inequalities with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, namely youth and women. The impacts of the pandemic on youth labour market outcomes have been severe in developed, emerging and developing countries.
COVID-19 IMPACTS ON JOB OUTLOOKS
The impact of the pandemic has been severe for women, LGBTQ+ and BAME communities, and even more devastating for young women, LGBTQ+ youth, and young people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study estimated that around the world, jobs held by women are 1.8 times more likely to be cut in this recession than those held by men. Women also make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. Women work more in informal sector and low paying jobs which have been severely affected by the pandemic. The pressure of social norms that expect women to undertake unpaid care work is heightened with school and childcare centre closures. The gendered expectations for addressing childcare needs disproportionately impacts women, and can mean working reduced hours or ceasing work altogether when no sufficient alternatives are available. This further exacerbates gendered pay gaps and reinforces discriminatory notions of women’s right to work beyond the home. According to the Gender Social Norm Index released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), more than half of those surveyed in South Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan African countries agreed that men have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce. About one in six respondents in developed countries said the same as well.
The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, expressions, and sexual characteristics as well. Compared to the general populace, LGBTQ+ people continue to experience distinct disparities in health, income, employment, and access to critical resources like housing and medical care, all of which leave them especially vulnerable. They also experience employment discrimination which restricts them to certain kinds of work, often in the informal sector, with less pay, little security and no benefits. Societal and institutional discrimination against LGBTQ+ people are major drivers of this disparity.
The impacts of COVID-19 have been especially distinct among communities of colour. Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) migrants were 1.3 times more likely to experience income loss due to COVID-19; being disproportionately affected by redundancy processes due to bias and racial injustice. Throughout the pandemic, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the globe have further highlighted how deeply rooted racism is in society and how it remains a lived experience, particularly for Black people. These events show that despite greater focus on diversity and inclusion in recent years, progress on tackling racism is slow. We still have a lot to do in building fair and truly inclusive societies and organizations free of racism.
ADOPTING TO NEW REALITIES
Beyond lay-offs and redundancies, the impacts of upsurge in temporary contracts in the world of work are now even more apparent. For those still working, conditions have worsened, leaving many with precarious earnings or no income at all. The continued instability of the pandemic deepens the reluctance of employers to return to full-time and permanent employment models. The continued surge in temporary and part-time jobs means lower pay, and more insecure and unsafe jobs with little stability and benefits.
Certainly, the pandemic year has had us all asking questions and CYP delegates were not exempt from this as they came fully packed with reflective and powerful questions. Delegates discussed the extent of the inequalities on minority groups, positive correlation between COVID-19 cases and experiences of social inequities pre-COVID, key policy shifts needed to stimulate economic participation for women out of work due to the pandemic and more. One delegate was a direct victim of job loss resulting from the gendered burden of childcare. Sadly, the circles of inequality, powerlessness, and multi-faceted deprivation existed prior to COVID-19 and are simply being starkly highlighted and exacerbated. These disparities will continue post-pandemic if we fail to act.
THE WAY FORWARD
The future of works has come faster with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis and the speed of digital transformation. Many jobs will disappear and the new jobs that are created will have increasing demand for rapid technological and digital skills, which urgently requires an upskilling of our populations. My experience leading “STUDENT NETWORK”, an initiative centred on providing mentorship, skill acquisition, and career insight to young people in Nigeria, focuses on youth employability and providing relevant skills and training needed for upskilling in various career paths. To help create sustainable opportunities and networks that enable youth aspirations and business to thrive, COVID-19 Youth Funds supporting youth initiative on collaborative projects, entrepreneurship schemes, and business development need to be put at the forefront of policy action.
As businesses across the globe collectively race to adapt to the new realities of COVID-19, they cannot afford to deprioritize their efforts to advance the inclusion of women, the BAME community, LGBTQ+ people and other minorities. Governments and decision-makers across all sectors must also engage a wider perspective in all processes. For instance, gender-sensitive policies need to comprehensively recognized and respond to women’s work-life realities. Funding programs need to be accessible to women entrepreneurs, with a special focus on women-owned enterprises accessing capital to kick-start or sustain businesses to further promote gender diversity. Most importantly, access to education and training specifically geared toward empowering young women and girls is essential to prepare them for the future of work in automation and technology.
Through my own work and discussions at the CYP it is helpful to reflect on how essential it is to pay attention to structural inequalities that are so starkly highlighted by the pandemic. We must adopt more inclusive and sustainable approaches throughout our COVID-19 recovery efforts in creating policy that addresses the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority groups. Importantly, this will involve resolving the generations of discrimination, multi-dimensional neglect, and comprehensive harms fuelled even before the pandemic and likely to evolve further following it. As a society, inclusion is increasingly recognized as fundamental to our continued progress and development. Thus, in looking toward a post-coronavirus world embracing this belief with respect to employment and opportunity will be critical to our success.
UN Women; COVID19 impacts on Women
Human Rights Watch; LGBTQ Inequality and Vulnerability in the Pandemic.
Conversation Africa. Inc. “Black, Asia, and Ethnic Minority”
World Future Council, “Solution for our common future”
International Labor Organization, “Report on COVID-19 Impacts On Youth Employment”
McKinsey Global Report; COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects