Many More Women Than Men in the Ranks of Israel's Coronavirus Lay-offs, Figures Show

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A protest by self-employed workers, Tel Aviv, April 2020.
A protest by self-employed workers, Tel Aviv, April 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Nearly 30 percent more women than men have been laid off or placed on unpaid leave since the start of the coronavirus crisis in Israel. According to figures provided by the Israel Employment Service at the request of Haaretz, 116,000 more women than men filed for unemployment benefits in March and April.

The data, which covers the period up to April 16, show that 535,000 women and 419,000 men lost their jobs, meaning that women account for 56 percent of the newly unemployed while men account for 44 percent, even though the numbers of women and men in Israel are nearly equal. In the two months preceding the virus crisis, the unemployment picture was more balanced, with women accounting for 50.6 percent.

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Multiple UN reports have shown that women bear a greater share of the economic impact of the pandemic, since they tend to earn less, save less and have less employment stability.

The number of Israeli women working outside the home has grown significantly over the past decades, to 59.1 percent of women in the country, up from 41 percent in the early 1990s. They represent 47 percent of the workforce.

The gender wage gap remains high, however, and has even widened since 2018, according to the most recent figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2018, the average gross monthly income for men was 12,559 shekels (around $3,500) compared to 8,546 shekels for women – a gap of 31.6 percent. In 2018, the number of women considered poor rose by 0.2 percent, while the number of men meeting the criterion fell 0.8 percent.

A study on the gender wage gap published in April by the Adva Center, a progressive think tank, found that it had narrowed, but very slowly. “One key reason for the gender wage gaps is the low pay for typical ‘women’s’ professions. The most common occupations for women are therapeutic professions, teaching and administration – occupations in which the pay is relatively low, even for women with academic degrees. Other reasons for the gender wage gap is the lower number of women in senior management positions and employment norms that prevent women from getting ahead in the work world, such as the necessity to stay long hours at the workplace.”

Before the pandemic hit, a woman who asked not to be identified worked for a small high-tech company as a programmer. She worked alongside five men who held identical positions, but when the crisis erupted, she was the only one who was furloughed. “I didn’t think there could still be discrimination toward me because I’m a woman, my evaluations were always better than some of the men doing the same job. I was in shock that I was the one they picked to put on leave. One of my colleagues said they were being nice and wanted to let me be with my daughter fulltime instead of working. I asked him, why don’t you want to be with your child?”

“We know that women are more vulnerable in the labor market and receive a lower wage than men and therefore, with the exception of teaching jobs, there is a greater chance that women will move away from the job market than men,” said employment service director Rami Garor. He said the agency was taking steps to aid members of groups that are expected to have more difficulty finding work again.

Michal Gera Margaliot, the executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, says the crisis could have a far-reaching impact on women’s employment. “Women are the first to be fired and could be the last to return to the labor market. This is due, in part, to their role as the main caregiver in most Israeli households, and to gender stereotypes and the pervasive attitude a woman’s job is not as important as a man’s job.”

A new report by her organization on the impact of crises on gender equality finds that the current crisis is likely to exacerbate the inequality and disproportionately affect women, “as happened before in the 2008 global financial crisis and in the Ebola and Zika health crises. A narrow focus solely on the health and economic aspects, without addressing all of the gender-related effects of a crisis – the lack of women’s representation in decision-making centers, which means their needs are not heard and addressed, higher unemployment for women that could mean greater job loss and greater dependence on the social safety net, a heavier burden of child care due to school closings ... and surging sexual and gender-based violence – could put Israel’s achievements regarding women’s advancement in danger.”

A woman getting her temperature checked before entering the National Insurance offices, Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

One of the main things holding back employment equality between men and women is the so-called invisible work that women do in the home. A recent study by the Van Leer Jerusalem’s Institute’s Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere examined the ways that household duties such as cooking, cleaning and laundry, as well as caring for children and other family members, impede equality and advancement in the labor market. The research team, which included Dr. Amit Kaplan, Dr. Tali Feferman and Shimrit Slonim, found that women devote an average of 22 hours per week to caring for other family members, while men spend just 16.5 hours. And that women spend an average of 14 hours a week on housework compared to just 6 hours by men.

Unlike other Western countries that are examining the gender-related impacts of the coronavirus crisis, Israel currently is not doing so in its decision-making. Thus, for example, the advisers on the advancement of women’s status in local authorities throughout the country were not recognized as essential workers until a petition was submitted to the High Court of Justice by their union and by Women Lawyers for Social Justice.

Additionally, given the lack of female representation on the National Security Council committee planning the exit strategy from the crisis, at the initiative of WIZO, more than 30 women experts and senior executives and public officials, composed a supplementary report from a gender-focused angle that was submitted this week to the prime minister. The Prime Minister’s Office says the report’s recommendations will be considered. Among them: formulating employment models that will enable mothers to retain their jobs, including third-sector representatives in the decision-making process, restoring paramedical treatments and fertility treatments for women, and more.

“Appointing men only to formulate one of the most important strategic plans in the country’s history is blindness to the principle that women should be equal partners in setting policy, and hurts the ability to bring the final plan to all parts of the population,” says WIZO Israel Chairwoman Ora Korazim.

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