Following the joint efforts of the entire Insper Community to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, we are producing exclusive content to collaborate in decision-making and in overcoming the challenges of this period.
Generating knowledge that positively impacts society is one of our missions and. At the moment, we reinforce our course of action with a series of interviews, news stories, videos, and webinars that address various topics and highlight care and guidelines that we must all pay attention to during social isolation
In the following interview, Regina Madalozzo, professor at Insper and coordinator of the Gender Studies Center within our Center for Business Studies, analyzes the main challenges for women’s professional lives in this time of the pandemic, the female role in the front line of the fight against the new coronavirus, the increase in cases of domestic violence in this period, and the prominence achieved by countries with women in the leadership. Please see below:
1) What are the main challenges for women’s professional lives in this time of pandemic?
For all people, remote work is challenging, even because it is not usual. For women, we know that the challenges are additional to those that men face. As domestic responsibilities are not usually well-divided in families (and between couples), most of the domestic work (cleaning, cooking, etc.) falls on women. Also, when children are present, they require school support (given that classes have been online, and children are demanding more attention and help with schoolwork).
Thus, while women are dealing with the typical challenges of confinement and remote work, a huge part of “invisible” work falls on them. It further penalizes those professionals during the pandemic.
2) In Brazil, 85% of nursing professionals are women who are at the forefront of the fight against the new coronavirus. Women are also the majority in some categories which are more vulnerable to the pandemic economically, such as domestic workers. Do this data reveal anything to us?
They reveal two interesting characteristics of the job market: occupational segregation and job insecurity. On the first point, we know that men and women — in many professions — are segregated. Sometimes, in a field as a whole (engineering, for example, with remarkably high participation of men and low of women); other times, within the same area, such as in health.
Although we have high participation of women in medicine (they are already over 50% of those entering college programs in it), there are still few women considered exponents as doctors. (We can check that in a news story published last year by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, telling that people voted for the best doctors in São Paulo by specialty. They did not choose any woman.)
In nursing, even more than in medicine, the participation of women is especially high. It has a consequence of the history of the profession — often linked to the work of religious women in the healthcare and fostering of sick people. However, it is also related to a lower status in professional terms. Moreover, those lower-status professions (other examples are nursery schoolteachers, caregivers for the elderly, etc.), although of extreme importance, are generally professions with a high frequency of women as practitioners. It brings us to the second point, which is the precariousness of work.
In Brazil, domestic workers (and here, I include day laborers) are the category with the lowest formal employment record. Several efforts have already been made to regularize this work. However, as it is a contract between an individual and another, control is difficult. Also, the professionals themselves do not always want it nor understand the real importance of the formal employment relationship.
Thus, in an economic crisis, as the one unveiled in this pandemic, we see women both on the front lines for health defense (like nurses) and as one of the categories most affected by social isolation. (Such is the case for domestic workers: Many already lost their jobs; others are feeling compelled to work and take risks daily to keep them.)
3) How do you analyze the increase in domestic violence in this period? How should women and society take action in this situation?
Domestic violence grew in many countries during the pandemic. In Italy, the data shows an increase of over 100% in the first four months of the year 2020. In Brazil, although the data is not yet official, we already have an alarming rate of domestic violence in “normal” situations. According to the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, April this year presents a 35% increase in accusations of domestic violence when compared to the previous year. In São Paulo, the rate of domestic violence rose by around 45% when compared to last year, according to data from the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety in São Paulo. Those data reveal that the pandemic and confinement indeed aggravated domestic violence.
Our reaction must be greater than just the astonishment of the data. Women who suffer domestic violence must have the option to leave their homes and be protected by their families (which is often not possible) or the Central State itself. Offenders (and most of the offenders are male) should be punished with the rigor of the law. We, as a society, need to be aware of what happens around us to help those people. They are women and, often, children who are going through this period of isolation in a much more painful way: With fear.
Violence against women happens not just because men are nervous about losing their jobs, lack of money, or excessive alcohol consumption. Violence happens due to the social condition we live in and the differences between men and women. Also, due to the difficulty that we have, until today, to ensure that men and women have the same rights and duties.
When domestic violence occurs, behind it, there is the idea of someone who “heads” the house and, therefore, has additional rights over other residents. Their wishes and desires should be satisfied before the wishes and desires of others. Their concerns and problems become superior to those of other people. So, violence can end up happening. Eliminating domestic violence requires awareness and intense work to place women also as families’ protagonists (as many already are) and worthy of sharing this responsibility with their partners.
4) What is your analysis of the prominence achieved by countries led by women in combating the new coronavirus?
Interestingly, it is precisely those women leaders who have stood out the most during this period. My view is that this is not because women would be “better” leaders than men. I firmly believe that there is no difference between men and women in leadership skills.
However, there is a difference between the societies of the countries that elected these women (such as New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) and those of the countries that elected men who are more averse to social confinement and comprehensive protection measures for residents. The difference is cultural. My opinion is that the countries that elected those women as leaders value the characteristics of a “human pragmatism”. They are speed and efficiency in decision-making — accepting the risk of acting in excess of prevention than accepting the risk of a higher number of deaths — and valuing the lives of all people.
Regina Madalozzo holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States. She graduated from PUC-Rio and earned a master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, both in Economics. She has been an Associate Professor at Insper since 2002. Her research field is labor economics focused on the job market for women.
Regina is Coordinator of the Gender Studies Center within our Center for Business Studies. She takes part in several forums related to women’s empowerment and the presence of women in the leadership of companies.