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Gender inequalities in the labour market may affect the incidence of COVID-19

  woman doctor

Foto: Bermix Studio @bermixstudio / unsplash.com

The Government of Catalonia has endorsed a UOC research project to analyse the impact of the pandemic with regard to gender and social inequalities

The Gender and ICT research group plans to analyse healthcare and socio-economic data to get a picture of the social impact of the disease in Catalonia

Government of Catalonia figures show that, although the employment rate for women (50.4%) is nine percentage points lower than that for men, fields of employment could act as a factor that determines the impact of the coronavirus according to gender. While only 3.7% of men work in the health and social services field, this sector is the largest employer of women, with a total percentage of 13.5%. This reality could prove crucial in understanding the social effect of the pandemic in Catalonia, which is the aim of a new study being conducted by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).

As outlined by Ldia Arroyo, a member of the research team at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) responsible for coordinating this Government of Catalonia-approved study, "Our project will be looking at the impact of COVID-19 in relation to gender-based occupational segregation, an important aspect on which no data is currently available." The researcher went on to explain that the exploratory analyses carried out up to now indicate that the poorest neighbourhoods may have been hit hardest by the effects of the pandemic, one possible reason for which could be related to the fact that the risk of exposure would be greater for those working in less-skilled professions.

The UOC project has been approved by the Ministry of Health's Agency for Healthcare Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS) through its Data Analysis Programme for Health Research and Innovation (PADRIS). AQuAS has authorized 15 new research studies following an extraordinary call for proposals launched in the wake of the pandemic in order to analyse the relevant available data collected by the Catalan healthcare system. The goal is to promote data analysis for the development of predictive models using information from the health system with projects that contribute to the improvement of public health management.

 

Occupational risks with a gender perspective

According to a recent AQuAS report, women accounted for 51.5% of the more than 12,000 COVID-19 deaths recorded in Catalonia between 7 March and 25 May. "Labour segregation could explain this difference," suggested Arroyo, who is a researcher with the Gender and ICT group (GenTIC) at the UOC. Examining the different levels to which working women and men are exposed to COVID-19 as a result of gender-based occupational segregation is one of the main objectives set out by the UOC research project. As stressed by Ldia Arroyo, gender differences "are not only quantitative, but also relate to the type of tasks being performed, as well as the working conditions". With the researcher going on to point out that care service quality, "relates to proximity, not only psychological, but also physical," as a result of which there is a need to review the quality criteria for professions in sectors such as healthcare and social services: "a gender perspective needs to be applied with regard to their occupational risks". Arroyo also suggested that care work has led to greater exposure for women not only because they form the majority of the workforce, but because these jobs represent essential activities that have continued to be performed throughout the entire crisis.

 

Cross referencing socio-economic and health data

"AQuAS holds healthcare data going back over many years. We have access to a substantial amount of information, not only that directly related to COVID-19, but also that contained within the healthcare system records with regard to the provision of standard public medical care," explained the researcher, who believes there is a need to consider certain variables in addition to those that correspond to COVID-19 infection and death. The UOC's research team is aiming to analyse gender-related population data for Catalonia from an intersectional perspective. To that end, they will look at the effects in relation to age, socio-economic status and origin, i.e., as Arroyo explained, "the level of poverty or wealth, the potential influence that issues such as whether the pension a person receives is contributory or not may have". In a second phase, the research team also hopes to be able to cross-reference the data obtained from the healthcare system with that related to employment, skilled and unskilled jobs, and unemployment.

 

International collaboration to promote knowledge sharing

Of the 15 projects selected by AQuAS, the UOC study is one of just three that fall outside the realm of hospital research, by analysing the impact of the disease in the field of social sciences, and the only one looking at the issue from the gender perspective. The university project also involves the participation of the Open Data Barcelona Initiative social entity, an association that promotes open data distribution. Likewise, it is establishing synergies with international projects, such as GenPORT, a portal coordinated by the GenTIC group for sharing knowledge and inspiring collaborative actions related to gender and science. In order to generate open, accessible knowledge with regard to COVID-19 and gender, GenPORT has, therefore, created the #COVIDGenderArchive, which includes more than 50 resources that have been shared by its community of international experts. "We want to give the public access to information on the impact of COVID-19 with an intersectional gender perspective, thereby helping to turn this research into open knowledge," Ldia Arroyo concluded.