Bearing the brunt

The impact of the pandemic has not been felt equally by communities or the sexes.

What a year it’s been since I last reflected on International Women’s Day. Few of us could have expected what was to come. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had vast implications the world over, and touched everyone’s lives in some way, it is clear the impact has not been felt equally.

According to recent research, published jointly by the Fawcett Society and others, women make up the majority (77 per cent) of frontline workers in the UK. 

Women keyworkers are concentrated in face-to-face roles, such as in education, retail, and health and social care (where black, Asian and minority ethnic women are particularly disproportionately represented) – putting them right at the brunt of the crisis. 

A report by the Commons’ Women and Inequalities Select Committee also found that women were more likely to be employed in less secure work and, therefore, have experienced greater falls in earnings or hours during the pandemic. In addition, it found evidence that the gap between the number of childcare hours provided by men and women had grown, putting additional pressure on working mothers, especially those juggling employment and the new – and taxing – phenomenon of home schooling. 

It is also clear that minority ethnic communities have been impacted disproportionately by the virus, and by loss, during the pandemic. It will be vital that these experiences in our communities are given voice as we move into recovery from the pandemic. 

There have been green shoots of opportunity that it will be important not to let dwindle. For instance, the shift to virtual meetings has, in many areas, meant that a broader range of people can engage in civic life and decision-making. 

Holding meetings on Zoom may make the council chamber seem less intimidating and may hold standards of behaviour to greater account – as we have seen recently in the extraordinary interest generated by Jackie Weaver and the Handforth Parish Council.

Additionally, more people have been switched on to the idea of community, and the power of community action. We have seen it in our volunteer hubs up and down the country, and the lengths to which people have gone to deliver food, aid and comfort to vulnerable people in their communities.

It is essential that we harness this energy beyond the pandemic, and keep those engagement levels up in the world into which we emerge. 

Women’s equality

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and is a call to action for accelerating women’s equality (see www.internationalwomensday.com, #IWD2021, #ChooseToChallenge).

Councils across the country will be marking the day with online events and activities, and support for community groups and organisations.

For example, Manchester City Council has provided funding for one-off events, but also for buying annual Zoom licences so community groups can continue activities to support women throughout the year.

Author

The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign (see www.local.gov.uk/our-support/highlighting-political-leadership/be-councillor) aims to increase the pool of talent from which councillors are elected – a key task for local government given that, after the 2019 local elections, the Fawcett Society reported that women made up just 35 per cent of all councillors in England (up from 32 per cent in 2015). 

The LGA’s ‘Twenty-first Century Councils’ toolkit can help councils create the underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that encourages and empowers women, parents and carers to become local councillors and take on leadership positions (see www.local.gov.uk/twenty-first-century-councils).

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