June 23, 2024

Young women bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic repercussions across Australia, a new report suggests. 

The report, Changing the Trajectory: Investing in Women for a Fairer Future, found three in five job losses (60%) across the nation in 2020 impacted women, while young women aged 15 to 24 made up 22% of job losses between February and May 2020, and almost 60% of losses between June and September 2021.

Julie Reilly, the CEO of Australians Investing in Women, the group behind the study, said young women without a post-school degree or qualification suffered most, accounting for 125,000 job losses between February and May 2020.

Reilly explained these young women are overrepresented in industries most affected by lockdowns, like retail and the arts. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, including lost work, increased care burden, and greater risks faced by women working on the front line of the COVID-19 response,” she said in a media release. “Now, more than ever, targeted interventions through government policy and philanthropic investment are needed to improve the outcomes for women and girls, build a more resilient workforce and ensure a more prosperous future for all.”

The findings also point to concerning trends that may widen the gender pay gap and increase poverty across Australia.

Last year, the number of young women not currently studying or employed rose by 30%, compared to 20% for men. Experts say this gap is particularly troubling because young people who are withdrawn from either education, employment or training for more than six months are “three to five times more likely to experience persistent periods of unemployment in adulthood.” 

Various studies have shown that those who are unemployed have a higher risk of living in poverty due to the loss of income. 

The pandemic could widen the gender pay gap by at least one percentage point, the report states. 

Australia’s current national gender pay gap sits at 14.2%.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index, published in March this year, ranked Australia in 50th position out of 156 countries, behind Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, Burundi and Mozambique. Among East Asia and the Pacific, Australia sits behind The Philippines and Laos.

“Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed,” the WEF wrote at the time. “As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation, from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.​​”

The report suggests that governments, businesses, and philanthropic organisations unite to increase training pathways and job possibilities while implementing initiatives to support gender equality. Additional support should also be given to young women from non-English speaking backgrounds, as young migrants — both men and women — saw an almost 45% reduction in employment last May.

“The ability of the economy and community to recover from the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will require significant and innovative investments in social infrastructure and in people,” Reilly said.