Coronavirus pandemic deals fatal blow to Israel's working women

“Women went back tens of years during the coronavirus pandemic to traditional, household roles."

Women take part in a 'Day Without a Woman' march on International Women's Day in New York, U.S., March 8, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)
Women take part in a 'Day Without a Woman' march on International Women's Day in New York, U.S., March 8, 2017
The advancement of gender equality in Israel has stagnated since 2014, according to the Israel Women’s Network, which cited the Adva Center’s 2020 report on the status of women in Israel.
Two of the fields in which the status of Israeli women is much lower than that of Israeli men are political and economic influence and the Israeli workforce, the report said.
This has not been helped by the coronavirus pandemic, which dealt a fatal blow to working women in Israel, a WIZO report for International Women’s Day completed by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research found. Women currently make up 55% of those who are unemployed, despite constituting less than 50% of the workforce, according to the report.
“Israel is in a worrying process of a regression of the status of women,” WIZO Israel chairwoman Ora Korazim said. “Women went back dozens of years during the coronavirus pandemic to traditional, household roles. Mothers to small children paid a heavy price without educational frameworks, some paying with their jobs.”
In January, women were 68% of those newly registered as unemployed, according to WIZO, and female unemployment was consistently higher than male unemployment over the course of the pandemic, according to the Employment Service.
An Employment Service report for International Women’s Day found that female unemployment made up between 52.5% and 58% of total unemployment and was dependent on Israel’s lockdowns, during which female unemployment spiked.
That is because women fill the majority of positions in fields more heavily impacted by lockdowns, such as education and sales, and because many women were forced to stay at home with their children as schools closed for lockdowns. Families often choose to have the partner with the lower salary stay at home, the Employment Service report said.
Similarly, WIZO’s report found that the fields most impacted by the pandemic were education, health and welfare, which are characterized by a large proportion of female workers. Some 40% of all women employed in Israel work in these fields, the report said.
“The coronavirus pandemic revealed gender inequality that has defined the Israeli job market since before the crisis,” Employment Services CEO Rami Graor said. “The statistics from the study highlight the repercussions of pay gaps between men and women and the differences in fields of work. We must strive to close gender gaps in the workforce.”
Most of those harmed were mothers between the ages of 35 and 54 due to the closures of the school system, WIZO found.
THE COST to the state of paying women who were on unpaid leave from work (during which time they are considered unemployed) is approximately NIS 1.6 billion per month, according to WIZO. In the short run, taking into consideration unemployment pay and additional wages women would be paid if they returned to work, the total value to the state from women returning to work is at least NIS 3b., the report said. This number would likely be higher because it does not take into consideration that women’s work creates value greater than their wages, WIZO said.
Countries worldwide took steps to encourage female employment and prevent their firing during the pandemic, and Israel’s actions do not measure up, WIZO said.
Steps taken in other countries include paying employers to retain workers instead of paying unemployment benefits directly to employees, special grants for fields with high levels of female employment, programs and grants to encourage female entrepreneurs and campaigns for employees’ rights.
In the finance and insurance fields, some 13,000 Israeli women lost jobs, while almost no men lost jobs, according to the report.
In the public sector, female employment dropped despite male employment rising, with some 11,000 women losing public-sector jobs at the height of the pandemic, while the number of men employed in the public sector rose, according to WIZO’s report. December 2020 saw an additional 30,000 male employees in the sector compared with January 2020.
Women in Israel’s public sector make less money than men in every field, according to a report from the Finance Ministry, published for International Women’s Day. The field with the smallest gender pay gap is education, at 6%, and the employer with the largest is health maintenance organizations, at 44%. This gap has not improved, according to the report.
The gender wage gap is caused by a variety of factors, including seniority and the field of work, the Finance Ministry reported.
The proportion of women in senior positions in almost every ministry was lower than the proportion of women in the ministry, the report said.
In the education system, men were 15% of those who work in the field but fill 30% of management positions, it said.
In the security sector, the biggest gender pay gap was in the IDF, and the smallest was in the Prisons Service. This was partially due to salaries based on risk levels, according to the report.
Many men in the IDF are paid higher salaries because they fill positions with higher risk levels. In many cases, women are not allowed to fill these positions.
The Finance Ministry recommended multiple steps be taken to remedy this situation, including adding vacation days for parents and the ability to complete overtime from home for parents.
The ministry also recommended advancing rights for fathers, which could encourage men to take more active parenting roles and reduce the burden on women, allowing them to advance in their careers and work longer hours.