The future of young women are at greatest risk from COVID-19 fallout

The future of young women are at greatest risk from COVID-19 fallout

young women

New research from a Sydney-based research firm revealed that last year, women in Australia shouldered 3 out of 5 job losses across the country. In Victoria, 4 out of 5 job losses were women.

The report, ‘Changing the Trajectory: Investing in Women for a Fairer Future’, was commissioned by Australians Investing in Women (AIIW) and completed by Equity Economics, a consultancy firm that provides economic analysis and policy advice to the not for profit, corporate and government sectors. 

The report exposed the disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on women’s employment, especially the employment and education opportunities for young women aged between 15 to 24. 

The women in this age bracket accounted for 7.5 per cent of the labour force at the beginning of the pandemic, yet suffered 58 percent of the job losses between June and September 2021. In that same period, among the 281,000 jobs lost across Australia, 60 percent were lost by women.

Julie Reilly, CEO of AIIW, believes that despite the widespread impact of COVID-19, the results from the study clearly indicate that the working lives of women have been most crucially affected. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, including lost work, increased care burden, and greater risks faced by women working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response,” Reilly said. 

“Now, more than ever, targeted interventions through government policy and philanthropic investment are needed to improve the outcomes for women and girls, build a more resilient workforce, and ensure a more prosperous future for all.” 

The report also found there was a 28 percent increase in the number of young women not in education or employment, compared to a 20 percent increase in the number of young men. 

“This is particularly concerning because we know that young people who experience more than six months not in education, employment or training are three to five times more likely to experience persistent periods of unemployment in adulthood,” Reilly said.

“In May 2020, young women lost 25 per cent more jobs than young men. Between June 2021 and September 2021, they lost over twice as many jobs as their male peers.” 

“The pandemic could stall the entry or ongoing participation of women in the workforce by one year, and could widen the gender pay gap between men and women by at least one percentage point.” 

The report, funded by Melbourne-based research Non-For-Profit, Bell Family Foundation, also found that young women without post-school qualifications accounted for the most jobs losses across all age and education groups, with 125,000 jobs lost between February and May 2020.

“The pandemic has created significant risks to the economic futures of young women in Australia, and threatens to rapidly undo the gains in gender equality that have been hard fought for over many decades,” Reilly added. 

Migrant persons were also disproportionately affected by the pandemic, particularly young migrant women from non-English speaking backgrounds. These women suffered a 44.4 per cent fall in employment at the height of the pandemic in May last year.

“There are many factors that potentially drive this disparity, but there is a distinct lack of gender-disaggregated research in this space,” the report explained.

“In particular, the impact that temporary work visas, English language proficiency, lack of skill recognition, and the inability to access childcare rebates have on female migrants’ workforce participation, are all issues that are currently not well understood.” 

Mona Mahamed, founder Bankstown’s Community Support Services, explained that many women in her area had to take time off work or were made redundant because they were unable to leave their homes for more than an hour. 

“They tend to have large families and don’t have a lot electronic devices to share,” she said in the report. “The quality of education has gone down. Girls who had just finished high school and were planning to go to uni felt it was overwhelming and too expensive to study remotely and couldn’t go through with it.” 

Reilly believes the ability of the economy and community to recover from the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will require significant and innovative investments in social infrastructure and in people.

“Ensuring these investments address the disproportionate impact on women, and that the recovery supports gender equity in Australia, must be a focus of governments, business, community and philanthropic organisations,” she said.

Her organisation wants to see greater investment and focus to strength young women’s education and training pathways, their unique transition into secure employment, and an increase in women’s business opportunities.

One of the report’s recommendations suggests implementing capability-building and practical support for women into self-employment and micro business initiatives, including mentoring and access to capital. 

“Whether it is a program to support young women’s education and employment or broader initiatives aimed at advancing gender equality, this report reveals there are many ways to make a difference,” Reilly said in the report. 

“Interventions now through targeted philanthropic investment can improve the outcomes for women and girls, build a more resilient workforce and ensure a more prosperous future for all of us.” 

You can read the full report here.

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