Covid causes gender gap to increase by a generation

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 15th Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, found the global gender gap has increased by a generation, from 99.5 years in 2020 to 135.6 years. The increase is largely attributed to the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen women take the lead as essential workers, yet losing jobs in other key sectors. 

“Pre-existing gender gaps have amplified the crisis asymmetrically between men and women. The hardest-hit sectors by lockdowns and rapid digitalisation are those where women are more frequently employed. Combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home, the crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries,” says Saadia Zahidi, managing director at WEF.

Using key dimensions — economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment — the Global Gender Gap Index determines the benchmarks for the evolution of gender-based gaps across 156 countries. 

The gender gap in political empowerment widened by 2.4%, with only 22% reaching parity. Despite recording more women in parliaments in the past year, WEF estimates it will take more than 145 years to attain gender parity in politics. 

Economic participation and opportunity show 58% equality. With no significant improvement since the 2020 report and with little growth, WEF estimated another 267 years for the gap to close. 


“The slow progress seen in closing the economic participation and opportunity gap is the result of two opposing trends. On one hand, the proportion of women among skilled professionals continues to increase, as does progress towards wage equality, albeit at a slower pace.

“On the other hand, overall income disparities are still only part-way towards being bridged and there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27% of all manager positions,” reads the report. 

Progress has been made in educational attainment and health and survival dimensions, with 37 countries already at parity. 

Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world. It has remained in this position for 12 years. Noteworthy is that the United Arab Emirates is one of four countries that have narrowed down their gender gaps by at least 4.4%. 

Of the 156 countries monitored, 98 have improved their gender equality. 55 countries have reportedly regressed or stalled. South Africa regressed with 1 point, moving from 17 up to the 18th position of gender equality. 

“Gender-sensitive recovery strategies will be critical in making up ground lost during 2020 to prevent long-term scarring in the labour market. Leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to build more resilient and gender-equal economies,” says the forum’s Zahidi.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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