Women are more likely to lose their jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis but the Government's planned economic recovery efforts favour workforces dominated by men.

The Ministry for Women warned its minister Julie Anne Genter that if the uneven response is not addressed, it risks further exacerbating gender inequalities - particularly for wahine Māori, Pasifika, disabled or rural women.

In documents released to the Herald, the ministry urged Genter to raise the issue with Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, highlighting the current emphasis on infrastructure projects in particular as an example of biased thinking.

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"What is clear ... is that gender is a 'nice to have' in times of crisis, in the case of the aftermath to the Christchurch earthquake and in advice prepared to respond to Covid-19," it said.

"For example, the focus on 'shovel ready' projects will benefit workforces that are massively dominated by men."

In a series of graphs, it detailed how women were just 14.4 per cent of the construction workforce, and 24.5 per cent of the electricity, gas, water and waste services.

On the other hand, the industries most impacted by Covid-19 employed high numbers of women, such as retail, hospitality and tourism.

For example, women were 57.6 per cent of the retail trade and accommodation industry, with 18.9 per cent of the women's workforce in that industry, compared with 13.5 per cent of the men's workforce. It also had the lowest median earnings of any sector, and was one of the hardest hit by lockdown, it said.

The ministry acknowledged initiatives such as the Provincial Growth Fund redeployment and the $3 billion infrastructure spend were necessary to mitigate the economic impacts of the crisis.

"[However] due to the urgency required they have not been designed using a gender lens ... this will result in disproportionately negative outcomes for women."

Professor Jennifer Curtin, the head of University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute, said gender had to be considered if New Zealand wanted to move forward.

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"My concern about this shovel ready, Ministry of Works, nostalgic spending is that, what happens if too many women lose their jobs, then can't find a job, and end up staying home and taking care of children?" she said.

"Then we end up looking like we looked like in the 1950s. Back to the same old breadwinner model where the bread-winner was the guy."

Curtin said it was frustrating to see a lack of funding into social infrastructure - like health, caring, and education - when research showed that would create more jobs than the same investment in construction.

Professor Jennifer Curtin, the head of University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute, wants gender responsive budgeting embedded within all New Zealand policy making. Photo / Supplied
Professor Jennifer Curtin, the head of University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute, wants gender responsive budgeting embedded within all New Zealand policy making. Photo / Supplied

She said part of the issue was that New Zealand didn't yet have a gender-responsive budgeting process, where agencies were required to explicitly and systematically ask "who" was benefiting from policy, and how it would address inequalities.

The Ministry for Women (MFW) has advocated for the "mainstreaming" of such a process across agencies, however it is not yet required.

As the smallest agency in Government, with a minister outside Cabinet, MFW has limited power. In its own documents, it acknowledged it didn't have the ability to force change, but could only seek to "influence" other agencies or be a "critical friend".

Women's Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo said it still felt like an add-on, with women still on the outside.

"We're always in the position [of] adviser, not the decision-maker," she said.

Sumeo said she wanted to see procurement processes that required gender quotas, and contracts with a living wage, as part of the Covid-19 response.

She also said the volunteer sector - dominated by women - should be paid, there should be more online training and with that, cheaper internet. Additionally, an increased childcare subsidy, so women could retrain not just in vocational positions, but at university, should also be introduced, she said.

Women's Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo says equal pay, childcare, education and training should all be part of the response. Photo / Supplied
Women's Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo says equal pay, childcare, education and training should all be part of the response. Photo / Supplied

"We have to shift the mindset and the dominant thinking within the powerhouse, within the Treasury," she said. "It's 2020 and our biases are showing through the Budget. It's not like they can't do better. They have people like Jennifer, like Julie Ann, fighting every day but there's a block in the system for taking on the advice."

In an interview with the Herald, Genter said she thought there were two ways to address the inequities - by making trades more attractive to women; and by recognising the value of unpaid work down by women, including childcare.

"If we only focus on GDP then we're only looking at activities where we exchange money. We have to consider the productive benefit of work that's done that's not paid. And that's predominantly done by women," she said.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter has highlighted the gender biases in the Government's Covid-19 response. Photo / File
Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter has highlighted the gender biases in the Government's Covid-19 response. Photo / File

Genter also wanted more money for solo parents. She thought the lockdown had really highlighted to everyone how impossible it was to expect anyone to care for children and work at the same time.

"The sole parents' benefit is insufficient. And we have to remember - that is stimulatory. It's good for the economy. Stimulating the economy isn't just going out and building, it's giving people who need money more money."

She said she would like to also see more childcare subsidies, to allow people to retrain. Genter said she thought the crisis was an opportunity to invest in human capital.

"We can put gender equality and racial justice at the heart of our recovery," she said.

Robertson said he had received the letter from Genter highlighting the gender inequalities in the response so far, and discussed it with her.

The wage subsidy scheme the Government launched to help coronavirus-hit workers could cost as much as $12 billion.

He said Treasury had undertaken analysis about which groups were disproportionately affected, and that had been taken into account during the decision-making process.

He pointed to the apprenticeships investment as an initiative which would benefit female-dominated industries, like community health, counselling and care work.

The Government allocated $320 million for free trades training in critical industries over the next two years to help people who have lost their jobs retrain.

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Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website