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The pandemic undid the global strides towards gender equality

over the past decades, the movement to dismantle organised bias against women in workplaces, politics, academia, fast-tracking of economic opportunities and access to healthcare has…

over the past decades, the movement to dismantle organised bias against women in workplaces, politics, academia, fast-tracking of economic opportunities and access to healthcare has been gaining ground. While society remains unequal, these gains were unequivocally meritorious and resulted from the tenacity of women driving it.

However, in just over two years, COVID-19 undid the gains and exposed existing social inequalities.

If not addressed, discrimination against women and girls will stay on as a side-effect of the pandemic. The gender-skewed labour shortages in the workplace need to be ironed out as priority to create an even playing field for women who are in and will be entering the job market. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, is timely and rooted in human and not just women’s rights.

According to the Wits University School of Economics and Finance, while women accounted for less than half (47%) of those employed in February 2021, they accounted for two million, or two-thirds (67%), of the three million net job losses recorded between February and April of the same year.

Although women suffered 67 per cent of job losses, men received two-thirds of COVID-19 grants. As the economy started opening again in September 2021 women’s employment levels were still down 20 per cent, while men were down 13 per cent. The fact that COVID-19 forced more women than men out of work speaks to both the real and perceived value of women in the workplace.

The reality remains that women have had to find a balance under extreme conditions that the pandemic has presented or needed to drop out of the workforce to focus on their caregiver duties which further diluted their contributions in the workplace or presents challenges they’ll face in re-entering the job market.

Despite studies showing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion for business growth, women and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented and underpaid at all corporate levels.

As such from a project management perspective, it has never been more important to get women back to work as well as more women into work. As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and companies once again seek employees, many women are, however, having trouble resuming or starting new careers.

Despite current setbacks, in the longer term, we expect the trend of female participation in the workforce to increase. Equality of access from a gender perspective can hopefully be understood on a more level playing field, one that acknowledges and correctly values and rewards the full contribution of women to economies, beyond the workplace. We also need to recognise the imperative to include more women in leadership so that we can guide more gender-diverse and accommodating cultures.

We believe a lot of the changes that have taken place recently, and observed in the 2022 Global Megatrends report, can be used to achieve greater gender equality.

Remote work, for example, provides flexibility and should over time see more women enter the workforce and stay. Remote work has also been a great leveller for people subject to bias in the workplace.

As far as gender equality goes for a sustainable tomorrow, it will require buy-in from everyone including men.


Joanna Baidu, Youth Lead, Project Management Institute

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