In New Low, Twice as Many Israeli Women as Men Lost Their Job During Lockdown

As a third nationwide coronavirus lockdown takes its toll on the economy, advocacy group says women reported they were dismissed or sent on unpaid leave, while men at their work places remain employed

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
Shuttered stores in Rehovot, October 26, 2020.
Shuttered stores in Rehovot, October 26, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

More than two-thirds – 68.5 percent – of those unemployed as of the third lockdown are women, a new record in gender inequality. Some 84,493 women lost their jobs from the start of the lockdown on December 27 through Thursday.

These latest figures from the Israeli Employment Service, broken down at Haaretz’s request, show the women jobless figure is 2.2 times greater than the 38,855 number for men. In the two months prior to the coronavirus pandemic, last January and February, the number of unemployed men was almost identical to that of unemployed women (49.4 percent and 50.6 percent respectively).

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The current figures indicates a gender gap, which began in March and has been widening ever since.

According to the figures, in the first lockdown the number of unemployed women grew to 56.4 percent compared to 43.6 percent of men. In the second lockdown that began in mid-September women comprised 60.4 percent of the unemployed compared to 39.6 percent for men.

Officials in the Employment Service expressed concern that the figures would have long term destructive repercussions, such as increasing the inequality between men and women in Israeli society, bringing about a further reduction in women’s wages, blocking them from being promoted and hurting their work continuity, even for women who manage to return to work after the economy recovers.

“Closing down the economy hurts women more because there’s a structural discrimination in the labor market that directs women to low-wage professions, a limited employment ceiling and greater vunlerability to crises,” said Employment Service head Rami Grauer.

Lawyer Dana Meitav, the director of the Israel Women’s Network, said “the crisis enhances the fact that the labor market is unequal to women in many ways and they are the first to be ejected from it. Women work in less rewarding jobs and professions, whose terms and employment security are lower. Closing the schools and kindergartens is crucial, because women are still the main child caregivers. This isn’t taken into consideration enough in the decision making process.”

Officials and activists in women’s organizations provide several explanations for the fact that women are dismissed and sent on unpaid leave in far greater numbers than men. These are rooted in discrimination against women and the gender inequality situation that prevailed before the coronavirus crisis struck. The most recent Central Bureau of Statistics Bureau figures show the wage gap in Israel at 32 percent in favor of the men.

The number of women earning less than minimum wage was 43 percent compared to 28 percent of men. Also, mothers are still the main child care providers in most families and put in an average of 22 hours of unpaid work at home each week, compared to 8.6 hours for men. These hours are unrewarded and unrecognized, but prevent women from getting ahead at jobs outside the home. Due to that, together with closing down schools and kindergartens and with no state incentives to prioritize women’s roles at work, numerous households decide that the lower wage earner – the woman – should stay home with the children and lose her job.

Dr. Gal Zohar, director of the Employment Service’s research and policy unit, says it’s important to eliminate the gender gaps that existed in the labor market prior to the crisis in order to overcome the unemployment gaps.

“Women were paid lower wages and their jobs were less stable already before coronavirus came a long. The minute the education system stops working we immediately see a spike in the number of women ejected from their jobs. This is a double blow, because many more women are employed in the education system than men and also because when the system shuts down more women have to stay home with the children. We’re now concerned that women’s career courses and professional development will be damaged in the long run. Women return to the employment market faster than men, but for lower wages and inferior jobs. To combat women’s unemployment we must reduce the gaps between men and women’s income and stop the discrimination in the labor market.”

Lawyer Amit Kobo of the Women’s Network says the group has received calls from numerous women saying they were dismissed or sent on unpaid leave, while the men at their work places remain employed.

Tzafi Barkan poses for a photo at her home in Ramat Gan, January 14, 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

One of these women, Tzafi Barkan, 60, of Ramat Gan, worked for seven years as a salesperson in a Givatayim store and was sent on unpaid leave on March 15. For what is by now close to a year, she has been forced to live on unemployment fees and cannot find a job. She urged the government to find a solution for women like her.

“We have been abandoned on the front lines. Even when men worked below me in previous jobs were earning more than I was. Now I see myself and my friends sitting at home, while the men continue to work as usual...I can hardly manage with unemployment payments and had to cut down in every way. I’m stuck at home even though I want to work and am doing everything I can to find work,” she told Haaretz.

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