Covid-19 and women: a shrinking job market and a growing risk of violence at home

26 May 2021 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 26 May 2021

Home is not a safe place for everyone (photo by Gus Ruballo on Unsplash)
Home is not a safe place for everyone (photo by Gus Ruballo on Unsplash)

For women, economic prospects and domestic abuse are interlinked. The pandemic is putting pressure on both.


Women are bearing the brunt of Covid-19’s assault on the jobs market, it was revealed this month.

In the 12 months from December 2019, women accounted for six in ten job losses in hospitality, the same ratio in wholesale and retail, and almost the same in other services.

Overall, the levels of redundancies now are 76% higher than they were during the 2007 financial crisis.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Women are more likely to be on furlough than men and to work in sectors hit hardest by Covid, like retail and hospitality. And they bore the brunt of childcare while schools and nurseries were closed. Without ongoing support from ministers, many more women face losing their jobs.”

At the end of February, research found that 2,337,900 women were furloughed compared with 2,144,700 men. This places women at greater risk of redundancy, compared with men, as the economic fallout of Covid-19 continues.

All of this is compounded by the longer-term struggles faced by women in the jobs market.

However, this is not the end of the story. The fact that women earn less than men is an issue, per se, but it has ramifications. Women are less financially independent than men.

This means some women who face domestic abuse feel they are not so able to pursue separation. Children can complicate this further – mothers want their kids to be as well catered for financially as is possible.

Domestic abuse

In the first year of lockdown, the number of women murdered in Northern Ireland doubled compared with the prior 12 months, from four to eight.

That is the most devastating end of a wider truth: domestic abuse has soared since the start of the pandemic.

At the end of last summer – so fewer than six months into the Covid-19 restrictions – the PSNI revealed that it had just faced its worst year for incidents of domestic abuse since records began (at 88 per day).

The number of domestic abuse crimes (crimes being effectively a subset of incidents) rose 13.3% year-on-year to 18,796. This amounted to almost one fifth of all crimes recorded by police in NI.

Since then, there has been another six months of significant social restrictions. Two of the eight murders of women in the past year took place in March.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said this week, in response to a written question from DUP MLA Robin Newton: “Figures sourced from the Police Service of Northern Ireland indicate that there were 31,848 domestic abuse incidents recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in Northern Ireland in 2020, a slight increase from the figure of 31,714 recorded in 2019. The number of domestic abuse crimes recorded by PSNI in 2020 was 19,000, up slightly from 18,049 in 2019.”

So the numbers of both incidents and crimes continue to rise - the latter up by around 5%, year on year.

Just two weeks ago the Criminal Justice Inspector criticised slow progress on necessary reforms. A 2019 report made seven recommendations but the CJINI said that only one of these have been fulfilled, while four have been partially achieved and two have seen no progress at all.

Ms Long has made tackling domestic abuse a priority for this Assembly mandate. Her bill to criminalise controlling or coercive behaviours in the home was seen as a landmark but its passage through Stormont was rocky.

Covid-19 has placed direct pressure on women who suffer from abuse, making it harder to change their domestic situation.

Women’s Aid created a campaign to take on this issue and provide an empowering voice to help women, speaking directly to women to say, “You can Unlock Your Lockdown”.

Financial independence and abuse

Lynn Carvill is CEO of Women’stec, a charity based in North Belfast that provides training for women in non-traditional skills and helps them find work in non-traditional sectors.

The organisation helps women develop skills and ultimately look for work industries including carpentry, joinery, wall and floor tiling and more.

This is not just about opening up a broader range of opportunities for women – although that is part of it – it is about economic empowerment. Many traditionally male sectors (such as the above) tend to pay far more than many of the traditional women’s roles, such as childcare worker or hairdresser.

Ms Carvill told Scope that Covid-19 has “widened the already existing fissures of inequalities in societies”. She said this applies to people from BAME backgrounds, those with disabilities, those in poor housing – and women.

“The pandemic has exposed gendered labour market segregation like never before.  The disproportionate effects of the virus have impacted women in work, out of work and at home. 

Frontline workers in the health and social care sectors (predominantly women) risked their lives daily during the virus spikes and lockdowns.

“Workers in the retail, hospitality and beauty sectors (predominantly women) were furloughed, and currently more likely to be made redundant as furlough tapers off. Some paid the ultimate price by just being at home as domestic violence crimes continued to rise. In Northern Ireland nine people were murdered: eight were women (this compares with two women who were victims of domestic murder in the previous year). There is of course a link between economic dependence and domestic abuse and murder.

“This pandemic has exposed the risk to the personal and professional safety and economic security of millions of women. This is a key reason why the NI Women’s Budget Group demands that measures are taken to end precarious and low paid work for women, and to place greater value on care which we know is the glue that holds society together.

“Addressing these issues will involve enhancing the economic autonomy of women, negating economic dependence on partners or a social security system that is not fit for purpose and entrenches poverty.”

A healthy jobs market is not just about economic opportunities. There are knock-on effects throughout people’s lives.

For women, the link between domestic abuse and lower economic independence was an issue before Covid-19. The pressures of the pandemic have made this worse in several ways.

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