What are the key elements of a gender-based recovery strategy? Reflections from IPPO’s first Northern Ireland roundtable

Greater representation of women in senior positions and increased recognition of the burden of providing unpaid care were two of the key recommendations highlighted at this gender-focused event, led by IPPO’s Northern Ireland policy team

Ann Watt and Muiris MacCarthaigh

The International Public Policy Observatory’s virtual roundtable about the gender-related impacts of COVID-19 was the first to be led by its policy team in Northern Ireland – Queen’s University Belfast and the Pivotal public policy forum – but featured speakers and attendees from across the United Kingdom and far beyond.

Professor Jennifer Piscopo from Occidental College in Los Angeles led off with a presentation about women during the pandemic entitled: ‘On the frontline but left behind.’ Jennifer highlighted the significant absence of women in decision-making roles during the crisis (with a few high-profile exceptions), while many bore the brunt of COVID impacts through low-paid jobs and unpaid work, including informal care roles. Jennifer argued that far greater representation of women is needed in senior positions if gender impacts are to be more fully recognised.

The first contributor from Northern Ireland was Dr Lisa Smyth from Queen’s University Belfast. Lisa described the mounting dependence on unpaid care during the pandemic, which has predominantly fallen to women to provide. A lack of data about unpaid carers makes it difficult to know the full scale of this issue and hence to offer proper support, whether financial or in other forms. Lisa called for better planning for future emergencies, including much greater recognition of the role and impact of unpaid care.

Next up was Rachel Powell from the Women’s Resource and Development Agency in Northern Ireland. Rachel leads a project on gender-based budgeting in Northern Ireland, including working with local organisations to assess the gender impacts of COVID, leading to the development of the Feminist Recovery Plan. Rachel spoke about the difficulties of engaging with the Northern Ireland Executive about this plan, despite extensive lobbying efforts.

Finally, we heard from Erica Roscoe from IPPR North, whose recent publication Women in the North: Choosing to challenge inequalities looked at how the pandemic had disproportionately affected women in the North of England, compounding existing inequalities. This applied particularly to women from minority ethnic communities.

While a lack of data restricts a full understanding of these impacts, IPPR North’s recommendations include:

  • increased pay for people (mostly women) in low-paid and unpaid roles;
  • better understanding of differential gender impacts; and
  • greater representation of women in decision-making roles.

The event ended with questions to the speakers from the audience. Particular thanks to Dr Clara Fischer from Queen’s University Belfast for chairing this roundtable.

Ann Watt is Director of the Pivotal public policy forum. Muiris MacCarthaigh is Professor of Politics and Public Policy at Queen’s University Belfast, and IPPO’s policy lead in Northern Ireland.