The COVID-19 crisis threatens fragile gains towards gender equality in G20 countries, says new report

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women in G20 countries, hampering their economic empowerment, increasing gender inequality in employment and amplifying gender-based violence. Recovery measures should focus on safeguarding labour equity, fostering entrepreneurship and finance, and fighting violence against women and girls, according to Ending gender-based discrimination in G20 countries: a frame for action, a joint OECD-Women 20 (W20) report developed under the Italian Women 20 Presidency.

Between 2019 and 2020, the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis has caused women’s labour force participation rates to decline in the majority of G20 countries, except for Germany and the United Kingdom. In 2020, 59% of women in G20 countries were participating in the labour market compared with 79% of men on average. The report highlights that there is still a long way to go for G20 countries to achieve their commitment to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25% by 2025. In 2019, women still earned 18% less per hour than their male counterparts across all G20 countries. Gaps between women’s and men’s levels of representation in management also remain important: the average share of women in managerial positions stood at 31% compared to 69% for men in 2019.

The report shows that more needs to be done for women’s entrepreneurship and financial inclusion. Between 2019 and 2020, the share of women among business owners decreased in ten countries and increased in eight. There is also wide variation across G20 countries in terms of self-employed earnings between women and men. The gender gap in self-employed earnings among the six countries with available data ranged from 11 % in France to 45 % in Italy in 2017.  In addition, women have less access to financial services than men across G20 countries. In 2017, fewer women than men reported having an account, by themselves or together with someone else, at a bank or other financial institution.

Finally, violence against women and girls remains widespread in G20 countries: 26 % have experienced intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, lockdowns and other COVID-19 containment measures have amplified the risk and severity of violence against women, especially domestic violence, while hindering their ability to seek safety, justice and support. Girl child marriage also persists. On average, 12 % of girls in G20 countries are married before their 18th birthday, against a global average of 22 %.

Against this backdrop, Ending gender-based discrimination in G20 countries recommends policy measures to fast-track women’s labour inclusion, promote women’s entrepreneurship and access to finance, and address violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19. These include:

  • Facilitate women’s participation in the labour market through legislation to guarantee paid maternity and paternity leave, investment in paid childcare, gender-affirmative actions and universal social protection and pensions for all women throughout their life cycle, including in the informal sector.
  • Enforce anti-discrimination laws in the workplace to ensure quality jobs for women, equal and transparent pay, and anti-discriminatory human resources management, specifically for recruitment, training and promotion policies.
  • Ensure a strong legal framework and policy environment that includes a women-focused approach to business creation and development.
  • Facilitate women’s access to finance and capital through grants and lower interest rates and by making use of digital technologies such as e-banking and mobile money, including in rural areas.
  • Establish training programmes and coaching to close the digital gender gap and improve women’s financial and digital literacy, and run awareness-raising campaigns to challenge stereotypes about women’s potential as entrepreneurs.
  • Close legal loopholes and gaps that enable violence against women and girls through the criminalisation of all forms of domestic violence, including marital rape, and of sexual harassment in all areas of life.
  • Support a culture of awareness of and zero-tolerance towards violence against women and girls through information-sharing on the rights and services available to survivors of violence and by engaging with men and boys in unpacking masculine norms.
  • Invest more in data to eliminate gender pay-gaps in employment; to expand the evidence base of women’s entrepreneurship, notably the bankability of women-led and owned businesses; and to measure the prevalence of multiple forms of violence against women and girls.

The report includes a detailed country profile for each of the G20 countries.