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Israel’s COVID-19 Era Labor Market: Three Main Challenges Facing Women

By the Chief Prosecutor in the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services in Israel Gali Levy, our Center’s former 3-time trek participant and Rethinking Asia 5 author.

This article was originally published on Wilson Center.

None of the problems women face in the workplace are going to go away after the pandemic without specific resources and targeted policies to address them.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted Israeli women in almost all industries. Young women (aged 20-24) were particularly affected by the crisis. Around 60.5 percent of women in Israel lost their jobs, compared to 39.5 percent of men in the same age range. This number reflects a much wider trend we are witnessing on a global level. Many women with children were significantly affected, largely resuming the traditional gender roles of childcare and family caregiving

Israel has made major progress in women’s labor force participation and entered the crisis with a relatively resilient workforce. The average employment rate among Israeli women was 75 percent – a rise of 20 percentage points over the last 30 years. However, while the pandemic affected employment rates across the board, more women than men took unpaid leave to stay home with the children after schools closed.

The crisis opened the eyes of many to the challenges employed women face. Men were more exposed to the day-in-day-out responsibilities of 24/7 childcare. There is already evidence that in recent years Israeli men are taking on a greater share of unpaid work at home. However, none of the problems women face in the workplace are going to go away after the pandemic without specific resources and targeted policies to address them.

All stakeholders must work together

It is important to encourage and even incentivize equal pay. Raising awareness, increasing transparency, and educating stakeholders are crucial. Women are also more likely than men to work in low-paying jobs, face discrimination, and often lack workplace protections and benefits. Therefore, we need to give women a tool kit to combat the challenges of entering the labor market and earn rewarding, well-paying jobs.

A major concern is the potential for long-term damage to both women’s employment rates and the gender wage gap. The public sector, which represents an employer, a regulator, and policy decision-maker, must ensure women will not be permanently ejected from the labor force. Women who stepped out of the workforce or faced reduced working hours during the pandemic may have trouble getting back on track in their careers. For those women, it is important to build a training system and mentorship programs to improve skills and competencies. This will help women find better employment and ensure they are not overlooked for advancement opportunities.

Enforcement of rights violations against women in the workplace and providing childcare and caregiving support also important steps. We can consider more innovative work-family policies and offer incentives to companies for removing barriers to women in the labor market. It is also important to encourage flexibility in the workplace and remote work. More fathers now understand the burden women face at home and sometimes take primary responsibility for childcare, which overtime may erode social norms placing the burden of household responsibilities solely on women. Regulators, employers and managers must be united in sending a clear message:the transformation of women’s integration and success in the labor market depends on the commitment and it requires more involvement of men.

A Personal perspective

My husband and I worked throughout the pandemic. I had hard time dealing with my kids’ needs, particularly in keeping them busy and manage the need to be involved with remote school activities. While my “kids” are independent teenagers, during the pandemic they ate only at home, and the home kitchen was busy. We also had to deal with the hardships of the distance learning, the disruption to our typical routines, and quarantines.

Like us, I saw families that had to face a whole different set of unexpected dilemmas that needed immediate response. This resulted in higher rates of stress on women, who, in most cases, still carry a majority of the household burden. Women who work in essential positions in government and elsewhere, had to work long hours and many experienced burn out.

There is no doubt navigating between the household needs and career needs can be frustrating. However, the flexibility of work arrangements that the pandemic forced on us represents a blessing in disguise. Some think that the remote work and flexible hours are a problem for women, but it enabled me and many others with children to keep their family and jobs safe during the pandemic. We obviously see that the COVID-19 outbreak has substantial implications for women. I personally don’t see it as damage to women in the labor market but as a short-term setback with long-term potential.

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