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Out of 101,000 newly unemployed in Italy, 99,000 are women

Covid is also a gender issue: 98% of those who lost their jobs are women

ISTAT, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, data shows that out of 101,000 newly unemployed, 99,000 are women.  The pandemic has widened the problem of gender inequality.

The covid-19 pandemic inequalities

If there were any doubts left about the fact that the pandemic was amplifying social inequalities, ISTAT has handled them.  Data on Italian employment was recorded starting in the summer, with the end of the first lockdown, and since autumn the situation has worsened even more due to the second wave and new regulations.  In December, a month that would normally be sparkling with work between Christmas and end-of-year vacations, employment fell by 101,000 units, a tragic number in itself, but made even more worrying by the gender breakdown with which this occurred. 

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It was, in fact, a collapse almost exclusively female, with 99,000 women who ended up unemployed or inactive.  A phenomenon that can be found, albeit with somewhat less extreme numbers, even by looking at the whole year.   Of the 444,000 fewer workers recorded in Italy in all of 2020, 70% are women.

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The pandemic is acting in a context, both Italian and global, where gender inequality in the workforce was a critical issue even before the health emergency.  The global gender pay gap, i.e. the difference between the average annual salary received by women and that received by men, is around 20%.  In Italy, the figure is lower on average, but this does not mean that things are going well. 

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In the private sector, for example, even that value is exceeded, which is why Italy continues to lose positions in the rankings of countries that implement equal pay.  But beyond wages, there is a problem of female employment that lies upstream.  Censuses up to the beginning of 2020 noted that women accounted for about 42% of the country's total employment and the female activity rate stood at about 56%, compared to 75% for men. ISTAT's dire December figures, which are not all that different from those of previous months, are like twisting a knife in a wound that is systemic to Italy.  2020 has only accelerated things further.

Why women

The reason why the employment slump in pandemic- ridden Italy is a mostly female issue has to do with the nature of the work itself.  Women are mainly employed in the sectors that are experiencing the crisis more than anyone else, such as services and domestic work, often with contracts that provide little security and stability, such as part-time work.  This is why today they are the first sacrificial victims of employers, a phenomenon that not even the freeze on layoffs has been able to curb.

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In fact, the health emergency is only amplifying those inequalities that already characterized the social structure of pre-pandemic Italy.  Women, who are characterized by lower employment, poorer salaries, more precarious contracts and are rarely employed in top corporate positions and therefore "safe", today are the first to suffer the effects of the crisis.  And even when everything seems to be going well, the reality is often different.  Trapped in the social construction for which the burden of care and family must weigh on their shoulders, Italian women have seen their work increase in 2020, with smart working overlapping domestic jobs without the possibility of a spatial separation between the two.

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Are we really all in the same boat?

For months, the fable was repeated that in the face of the pandemic we're all in the same boat, but reality quickly showed that in every respect things are not like that. From the right to housing, to the job market, from access to care to education, the health emergency and its aftermath are hitting harder or even harder, depending on geographical location and social profile.  Pre-existing economic, social, racial and gender inequalities have been accentuated, and all of this risks having longer- term consequences than the virus itself.  A fact from which Italy has not proved immune.  That 98% of laid- off workers December are women is just one several examples.

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Ph: Eugenio Marongiu /

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