Work style challenges for women laid bare amid coronavirus crisis

With the spread of novel coronavirus infections, various issues surrounding women have been brought to light. The government needs not only to support those in need but also to pay attention to the background situation.

A Cabinet Office panel of experts has compiled a report stating that the coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on the lives of women.

In fiscal 2020, the number of reports of spousal violence increased by 60% from the previous fiscal year, while those of sex crimes and sexual violence also increased 20% on a year-on-year basis. Last year, 7,026 women died in suicides, 935 more than the previous year.

The report pointed out that “people who were near the [metaphorical] cliff were driven to the very edge of the cliff by the coronavirus.” It seems that as anxiety and stress in their lives intensified, the burden of the coronavirus has taken a toll on women who were already in vulnerable positions. There is an urgent need to expand systems to provide information and counseling.

The coronavirus crisis has directly hit women who work as non-regular employees. Last year, the average number of male non-regular workers fell by 260,000, while that of female non-regular workers dropped by 500,000 — nearly twice as many.

Behind this is the fact that half of working women are non-regular employees. To prevent an excessive burden from being placed on women, it is necessary to ensure that they can earn a stable income. To this end, the government should help improve the treatment of non-regular workers and promote them to regular workers through vocational training.

According to the report, 90% of nurses, 80% of visiting care workers and 70% of nursing care facility staff are women. These occupations tend to be more stressful because of the high risk of infection and the difficulty of taking days off from work.

The fields of medical and nursing care are key to efforts to prevent the expansion of infections. To prevent them from experiencing a labor shortage, it is important not only to improve the treatment of these workers, but also to expand such measures as thorough training sessions on infection control.

In response to an increase in the number of two-worker households, single-person households and divorces, the government has included in this fiscal year’s priority policies on women’s empowerment a plan to reconsider various family-related systems.

There is no denying that the existing tax system and social security system, which are designed on the basis of an old typical image of a household centered on a male company employee and a homemaker, have contributed to inhibiting the employment of women.

Shorter part-time work is more flexible in terms of the effective use of time for homemakers who are responsible for housework and child-rearing. However, for single mothers and people living alone, it can limit their income and make their lives unstable.

It is vital to review the tax system, including spousal tax deductions for income taxes — under which if a married woman’s income exceeds a certain amount, she is no longer covered as a dependent — and to revise the system so that two-worker and single-person households will no longer be placed at a disadvantage. The government needs to deepen multifaceted discussions on the issue in light of the changing times.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 23, 2021.