Are we gender equal before COVID 19?

  • {{""|translate}} Olgica Apostolova
  • {{"article.posted"|translate}} 28-04-2020

Are we gender equal before COVID 19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about social life, including the question of whether we are gender equal before the strike.

One of the most difficult topics, in addition to health, is the economic crisis, which is already conditioned and started, and which will inevitably reflect differently on men and differently on women. In short, if a very quick and brief analysis of the labor market and the sectors initially affected by the crisis is made, it will be concluded that men are the ones who will bear the burden economically.

According to the State Statistical Office (SSO) in 2019, the employment rate per sex is 41.4% women compared to 58.6% men. In the status of employer , 77.5% are men versus 22.5% women. Employees at their own expense are 81.6% men compared to 18.4% women which is an important data in the expectations that companies will have the biggest loss from the pandemic.

That is supported by the fact that the share of women in the total number of employers of enterprises with 1 to 10 employees is 19.5%[1] .

If a sectoral analysis of the labor market and gender horizontal professional segregation is made, the picture is the same. Namely, according to the current trends of the pandemic, the most endangered sectors are tourism, catering and transport (Government of the Republic of N.Macedonia, 19.03.2020).

The sectoral analysis shows that there is a gender imbalance in these sectors, i.e. 68.7% of men or 31.3%[2]  women were employed in the sector: Accommodation and Food Services in 2017, and according to the MakStat database in the sector: Employees in the Hotels and Restaurants in 2016, 17,129 men were employed versus 8,317 women in absolute numbers.

Transport is traditionally a male-dominated sector, as evidenced by data from the Statistics Sector Transport and Storage, the employment rate of men is 87.2% versus 31.3% women in 2017[3].

But if we go back to the basics and that is that the labor market is still dominated by men, it is realistically expected that they will be economically more affected by this crisis.

What is hidden, but at the same time very visible from these figures, is the feminization of poverty, which means that the already fragile placement of women in the labor market is now becoming even more uplifting.

It is generally known that in cases of pandemics and natural disasters, the worst affected by the impact are the poor and those living in a state of social exclusion.

In this case, the social distancing in its wider meaning, which is recommended as a preventive measure against the spread of the corona virus, will be the most difficult for those already socially excluded.

The bipolar gender segregation here means increased vulnerability of women in the economic and social component as well as exposure to health risks.

What is the other (invisible) side of gender inequality?

Health risk. Horizontal gender segregation in the Health and Social Protection Activities sector is strongly expressed with 76.9% female participation versus 23.1% representation of men in this occupational sector[4]. Women are represented as doctors with 61.1% in the Republic of Macedonia for the period 2007-2015[5]. Given the fact that health workers associated with pandemics are most at risk for health, it is not difficult to conclude who is carrying the burden in this area.

Domestic violence.

Women's organizations around the world have emphasized that in cases of physical isolation, that is, when the home must not be abandoned, an increase of the prevalence of domestic violence is expected. On the other hand, access to victim services is аaggravated. In this case, we are talking about the life-threatening situation, which once again emphasizes the need for intervention by the state, i.e. here we must emphasize why it was, and still is, extremely important for health personnel as well as the police and members of the military forces to be strongly gender sensitized, ie trained to recognize and act on cases of domestic violence.

It should not be mentioned that these three categories in cases of pandemics are in the first rows in  contacts with the general population and should be the first to recognize the domestic violence and to act according their competencies.

The “Stay Home” measure should be re-defined in “Stay home-in a safe home”.

Unpaid domestic labour

 think it is superfluous to emphasize that in cases of physical isolation the unpaid labor within the family that falls on the woman is increased, due to the inability to access certain services that fall into the category of unpaid labor in the family: cleaning, babysitting and care for the elderly and dependents (long-term care) etc. This is followed by the aggravated position for those women performing their professional tasks from home which affects their efficiency and effectiveness.

The implication here is that economic independence of women and the elimination of the gender roles in the family and society, is not a simple feminist motto, but, it is a basis for stronger and sustainable economy.


Public transport is most commonly used by women. Data for 2018 from the Ministry of Interior, female`s share in the percentage of registered vehicle owners with 12.76%, at state level, compared to 71.07% men, while as owners of registered electric vehicles men are represented with 40.71% versus 1.77% women. The small female`s percentage as car owners contributes to the fact that women are most often users of public transport for the daily organization of obligations. The risk of transmitting the virus is high.

Public transport is often identified as a dangerous point in the area of "safe spaces" or places where women are often exposed to gender-based harassment and / or violence.

On the other hand, the current COVID 19 situation contributes to reduced or in some cases interrupted public transport. Given the fact that women are the ones who use it more often, the question arises to how will this impact their ability to complete the most necessary activities: access to food, medicine, certain social and health services, as well as the access to the workplace?

Household energy use

Some studies highlight the fact that women are more willing to sacrifice their time to do housework that would reduce energy costs, and that the poverty rate is higher in single-parent families, which is reflected in their energy poverty.

In conditions of physical isolation, activities in the home that involve the use of energy, due to increased family responsibilities, is also increased. Studies have shown the most affected groups in this category are single mothers. Is this being considered in the governmental measures for provision of help to the vulnerable groups of persons?


Gender statistics in agricultural holdings indicate a very low rate of women at 11% (SSO, 2014)[6],, and on the other hand in the category of unpaid family workers women have a share of 67.6% versus 32.4% men. One of the first economic measures the government is introducing is "direct financial support for liquidity in micro, small and medium-sized companies by the Development Bank of North Macedonia[7]".

If we consider the female`s small share in the ownership of agricultural holdings and their higher rate in the sector of unpaid family workers, we can conclude that inequality remains the same in the female`s low participation in the financial sources.

At the same time, it is known that women traditionally do not inherit the property/agricultural area, which results in their inability to manage their finances, ie only 11% of farm owners have a small share in their access to banking services, loans, credits.

Studies are also showing that women's labor in the agricultural family is most often associated with activities to maintain hygiene, cooking for the home, or watering to grow certain crops - mostly near the home. Not to forget the negative impacts of the climate change on access to water for consumption and water for irrigation of agricultural land which once again, burdens the female`s unpaid domestic labour and unpaid labour in the agricultural activities.


The general conditions that endangers the health and life of the entire population certainly have negative consequences for both men and women. However, social and cultural gender roles, gender division of choice of education and profession, gender division of the labor market and finally gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence, contribute to those consequences to have gender perspective or gender differences in certain segments.

These segments should be analyzed after the possibility of collecting gender-segregated data and based on them to plan gender-responsive strategic measures.

But before that, it should be clear that the continuous creation of strong gender-responsive policies and their effective implementation could certainly mitigate the impact of pandemics.

[1] No data available for the other categories
[2] SSO publication: Women and men in RNM, 2019
[3] Ibid
[4] SSO publication: Women and men in RNM, 2019
[5] Analysis of the sectors Health and Social protection: MOE, 2017
[6] Structure of agricultural holdings 2013, SSO

Olgica Apostolova

Olgica Apostolova, MSC in European Studies in Integration and Communication, with 18 years of experience in the field of gender equality, social inclusion and non-discrimination.



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