Covid-19, gender and government financial policy

6 Oct 20

Co-founder of Public Finance by Women Gillian Fawcett outlines the results of a survey on whether gender has been properly taken into account in governments’ financial responses to the pandemic.


As a matter of urgency, governments around the world should learn the lessons from those of their policy and financial responses to Covid-19 that failed to take account of gender, and not turn back the tide on gender equality. 

With the incredible speed in which the ramifications of Covid-19 are evolving around us, Public Finance by Women conducted a short survey to take views from individuals who work in public finance about whether government public policy and financial responses during the pandemic have been gender-blind. 

We received 139 responses from 21 countries, with Canada and South Africa providing the highest number. Although much has already been published by academics and commentators about the impact of the pandemic on gender, we still need to better understand its full impact. Our report provides fresh insights on whether differences in gender needs have been perceived as met.

Given that 81% of respondents believed the world of work will change through teleworking and increased flexible working practices, only 35% felt gender had been factored into government decision-making, and only 34% thought there was gender competence in government Covid-19 leadership teams. We now have the opportunity to change this dynamic by ensuring that women have a full part to play in decision-making and the economic growth and resilience of societies.

The survey highlighted that less than one-third of respondents thought gender had been taken into account in government measures aimed at lessening the impact of unfair division of labour in households, preventing domestic violence during lockdown and avoiding the targeting of predominantly female sectors of the economy. 

While 72% of respondents believed there was a responsibility on government to consider the impact of Covid-19 on both women and men when implementing emergency legislation, they were less confident about: the ability of government to collect and analyse disaggregated data and measure policy impact; gender being considered as part of the budget decision process; and the scrutiny of financial decisions through a gender lens.

“Now is the time to change and place gender at the heart of public policy and financial decision-making”

Just under half of respondents believed Covid-19 would impose a higher economic cost on women, through the loss of jobs or other opportunities. This is despite other evidence that highlights, in some sectors such as service and hospitality, that women are being disproportionately affected. For example, the IMF reported Covid-19 as having a disproportionate effect on women and their economic status because of the sectors they work in, such as service industries. According to the IMF, in the US unemployment among women was two percentage points higher than men between April and June 2020. 

Among the more positive aspects for advancing gender equality that are emerging from the pandemic is the belief that the world of work will change, with an increase in new ways of working such as teleworking and more flexible structures. We are already seeing organisations paving the way for these changes through the introduction of a four-day week and training and development programmes for leading virtual organisations and effective virtual teams. But teleworking is not an option for many women, particularly those in social care. In the US, about 54% of women working in social care cannot telework.

Respondents were also less positive about advancing gender equality into other aspects of government policy. Only 38% of respondents thought that there will be improvements in data collection by gender and one-quarter believed that gender would be integrated into policy impact assessments. 67% of respondents did not believe that the gender equality pay gap would decrease. 

Now is the time to change and place gender at the heart of public policy and financial decision-making going forward. The status quo is no longer good enough. It is pleasing to see that the House of Commons Women’s and equalities Committee in the UK has launched an enquiry about the gendered economic impact of Covid-19 and we believe that other legislatures will follow suit, as these challenges are global and affect all aspects of our lives.

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