One of the key outcomes anxiously awaited after this latest lockdown is how badly women will again be affected with job losses, compared to men.
Renee Graham, Chair of the APEC Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy, says APEC has played a key role championing work to help address the employment imbalance created by Covid-19. That work continues – as the gender pay gap and disproportionate effect of labour market shocks (like Covid-19) on women is a demonstrably long-term objective.
The imbalance was clear after Covid-19's emergence and the first lockdowns around the world. A McKinsey report said that, while women made up 39 per cent of the global workforce, they suffered 54 per cent of the job losses due to the pandemic. The International Labour Organisation had another measure of the effect of the pandemic: From 2019-2020, women's employment globally fell by 4.2 per cent (or 54 million jobs) while men's fell by 3 per cent.
Formally known as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC is a collective of 21 economies and 3 billion people around the Pacific Rim, shaping policy by discussion and compromise. New Zealand is hosting APEC this year – with a response to the pandemic high on the agenda.
Graham says addressing women's under-utilisation and the persistence of the pay gap between men and women are part of that response.
The unemployment gap occurs because women are over-represented in industries hardest hit by the pandemic – food, service industries, hospitality and tourism. More women are also casual or part-time workers and are far more likely than men to be caring for children or older people – meaning they are either the first to lose or quit jobs.
"It has impacts across the board, with issues like the burden of work, health and safety, gender-based violence and economic security all arising from this," says Graham.
The need to integrate women throughout all economic spheres of interest became obvious when APEC's Policy Partnership On Women began work on the matter, she says.
While the PPWE forum specifically addresses women, it can't solely carry the responsibility for women's economic empowerment.
"The work that needs to be done for women actually involves all the other APEC work streams."
Those work streams are inherent in what is known as the La Serena Roadmap – developed to provide concrete direction and to catalyse policy actions across APEC to drive greater inclusive economic development and participation of women in Asia-Pacific. It runs until 2030, with action areas and targets ranging from laws and policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, to improving the region's gender balance in leadership positions.
The work streams have sparked over 100 initiatives across various economic and social sectors in the 21 APEC economies. Graham says a large part of her work as PPWE chair now is steering the agenda and discussion between economies "so we have a focus on quality, not just quantity".
"The other really important part of our work in New Zealand, as in other APEC economies, is our long-term effort to reduce or prevent the impact on women every time there is a labour market shock like this," says Graham. "The pandemic wasn't the first time we have seen women adversely affected employment-wise – the Christchurch earthquakes produced the same kind of result.
"So New Zealand is working long-term to come up with policies that will address structural barriers so that the negative effects on women are not felt every time there is such a labour market shock." That would include issues such as the gender pay gap, child care, women working unpaid or receiving fewer working hours than men and many more.
"We all know that not all women are treated equally in the labour market when compared to men – but not all women are treated equally as other women too," she says. "That includes Maori, Pasifika and disabled women in New Zealand – and there is a lot of work to do there."
On September 24, ministers and delegates from the 21 economies met virtually for the Women and the Economy Forum to endorse the work of the APEC PPWE work stream. The forum was chaired by the Minister for Women, Jan Tinetti, with New Zealand represented by Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan.
They released a ministerial statement that demonstrates a commitment by all economies to take concrete steps towards building a stronger, more resilient future for the women and girls across the APEC region.