Why the pandemic has mostly hurt women

KRecruitment, loss of salary and too little attention in medicine? The corona pandemic could also bring long-term disadvantages to many women in Germany. Critical voices come from sociology and medicine on International Women’s Day on March 8th. In retrospect, the time of crisis appears as an example of some missed opportunities – and as a wake-up call to think more about women in the future.

Just before the pandemic began, British journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez published a widely acclaimed book called Invisible Women. It provided a wealth of evidence for the gender data gap. According to the author’s definition, this is a kind of patriarchy of data, in which male measures, experiences and perspectives are regarded as universal, while female ones are seen as marginal phenomena. Criado-Perez writes that it is often not done with malicious intent, but rather because of traditions that have not been questioned enough. For them, there remains a data gap that can continue into IT algorithms: artificial intelligence then sometimes mistakes a man in the kitchen for a woman.

But is it just a lack of data or the will to change something? The Berlin sociologist Jutta Allmendinger recommended one even before the pandemic four-day week for men and women and, following the Scandinavian model, advocated more paternity leave. She pointed out that time off and part-time work for women is also due to a lack of opportunities for care – be it for children or for parents in need of care.

At the beginning of the pandemic, she loudly warned against stepping backwards in equality. And what is she thinking today?

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“During the pandemic, courses were set in many life courses that cannot simply be reversed,” summarizes Allmendinger. “For women there will remain gaps in their career development, which will show up in their lifetime earnings and old-age pensions.” She experienced it herself at her Berlin Science Center for Social Research. “I’ve lost brilliant women scientists who have gone into administration. The path to a professorship is thus blocked.”

Allmendinger lists: During the pandemic, women were less employed. You have your working time reduced, changed jobs or went to the home office. You took parental leave longer than planned. Women who were in the fast lane in large, globally oriented companies also went part-time or took a break altogether. slowed down Many would have missed career steps in the three years of the pandemic. “The losers are mainly women with small children and women with care responsibilities for the parents’ generation,” she summarizes.

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The sociologist senses something else, beyond money and career. It’s about attitudes, norms and social culture. “Negative attitudes towards mothers working – the unspeakable notion of a ‘raven mother’ – have been more popular during the pandemic than before,” she says. If the opening hours of day-care centers were again up for debate, it would become clear how stubborn these traditional views persisted.

Medical disadvantages for women

Change of scene, hard cut in the direction of medicine and research: The corona pandemic has also highlighted the disadvantages women can have. Even after the hot initial phase, including the search for a vaccine, which is forgiving in some cases, they were not seen enough, summarizes Ute Seeland, Chair of the German Society for Gender-Specific Medicine and internist at the Berlin Charité.

It was not just about the fact that women were exposed to a higher risk of infection due to their high proportion in care professions with no chance of working from home. “Men and women have different immune systems,” emphasizes Seeland. “They can therefore also react differently to a vaccination – just like to any other active ingredient.”

In studies, for example, younger women in particular with high estrogen levels felt more side effects than men with the same dosage of the corona vaccines. Would women at this stage of life perhaps have needed lower dosages? “This question has not been consistently pursued,” criticizes the doctor. Such findings have remained little noticed by manufacturers and are also hidden in studies in the appendix.

Because women with their different sex hormone status – with the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and after the menopause – generally make research more complicated and therefore more expensive. “And then it quickly becomes clear that the benefits for society will be greater if we don’t make things so complicated now,” says Seeland. “That’s the crux. Women do not have to be included in studies alone. You then have to draw conclusions from the results.”

Back to society and its data: After the most recent Report from December to the G 7, an association of Western industrialized countries, women in Germany do an average of four hours and two minutes of unpaid family work a day. For men, it’s two hours and 30 minutes. Internationally, this is not a glorious newspaper.

According to the sociologist Allmendinger, the information is too vague, since the psychological stress is left out. “Care work cannot be measured in hours and minutes alone. It also comes with invisible responsibility,” she explains. “For example, when we roll around in bed at night and think about whether we have all the presents for the children’s birthday party or how we can get on with the day when the car is in the workshop.”

Unpaid family work is not just about children either. In Germany, it is increasingly about aging parents. The majority of them are cared for at home – often from daughters or daughters-in-law. Because nursing homes are often too expensive or a bogeyman with low pensions. Sociologist Allmendinger also observes that couples get divorced much more frequently than in the past when they are over 60 and then no longer care for each other.

With increasing life expectancy, the younger generation is becoming more responsible for care. Allmendiger criticizes that politicians are repressing this because of all the digitization, climate debate and war in Ukraine. “We’re not building the structures we need.”

Already now, so has the Bertelsmann Foundation 2020 calculated, there are differences of up to one million euros in the lifetime income of men and women in Germany. Author Criado-Perze calculates that with more earned income for women – instead of more unpaid work – a lot could be financed from taxes alone: ​​more all-day day-care centers and schools, for example. Why not also affordable, innovative care offers instead of domestic help from Poland, which their own parents then sometimes lack there.

Does working from home lead to more justice?

Is there nothing positive that remains other than a lesson from the pandemic? “The tender little plant from the home office grew a lot during Corona,” says Allmendinger. “Working from home is breaking through the culture of presence. It may turn out that this also marks the start of a four-day week.”

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The sociologist would gain a lot if Germany were now to resolutely abolish the spouse splitting scheme, which gives tax advantages to the large difference in income between partners, and the mini-jobs. All of this is “devil’s stuff” for the independence of women. “There are enormous financial incentives for a partner to leave for a long time, only work part-time or in mini or midi jobs,” says Allmendinger. “I wouldn’t talk about voluntary decisions.” When researchers talk to families, they hear: Der tax equalization was such that I would not have worked for anything at all. Or: The day care center costs more than I would earn net.

“If we turned two paternity months into six paternity months that expire if you don’t take them, that would be an important further step,” adds the researcher. If men generally took care of their children longer, that would be good provision. “But we’re still not doing enough. At the same time, employers should have learned during the pandemic at the latest that they cannot simply ignore a valuable, highly productive resource – that’s what they talk about women – in times of a shortage of skilled workers.”

And there’s even more to Allmendinger’s proposal for a four-day week for everyone. “A society without time for each other easily falls apart, the social glue is missing,” she says. And again, it’s not just about the money. “There is a social inequality in old age that we rarely take into account.”

Many women who would have had a good career now live without families of their own. “Your loneliness sometimes shocks me.” Your life in old age is at least often very different from that of men after a career. Because they usually have a wife, children and a circle of friends. And their wives usually took care of that.

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