Gender studies

Gender relations in times of crisis: Risks and opportunities for a more just society (session 1 of 2)

June 28, 2021 10:45
June 28, 2021 12:15

Brigitte Liebig, Institute for Sociology, University of Basel; Irene Kriesi, Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training; Martina Peitz, Sociologist, Zürich Committee Gender Studies of the Swiss Sociological Association


Stephanie Steinmetz, University of Lausanne; Leen Vandecasteele, University of Lausanne; Florence Lebert, FORS; Marieke Voorpostel, FORS; Oliver Lipps, FORS and University of Bern

Laurie Corna, SUPSI¹; Sara Levati, SUPSI¹; Danuscia Tschudi, SUPSI¹

¹Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera italiana

Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, University of Lausanne; Jean-Marie Le Goff, University of Lausanne

Lucia M. Lanfranconi, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

ar-reaching societal challenges, such as those associated with armed conflicts, climate change,ecological disasters, financial crises or the current global corona pandemic, often do have consequences for our social order. As a determining part of this order, gender relations are confronted with the manifold effects of these crises in all areas of social life. The social consequences of crises often differ between the genders in terms of work, family, education, public access and sexuality. The perception, representation and management of crises in particular reveals how social, economic and gender inequalities are dealt with.

Times of social insecurity potentially go along with the emergence of new social inequalities and injustices as well as the risk of a return to traditional work and power relations, and a “retraditionalisation” of ways of life, gender constructions and identities. However, crises potentially also offer the opportunity for a renegotiation of the established gender order, for the innovation of former routines and rationalities - thus they provide new options for individual action as well as social and political reforms.

The manifold and sometimes contradictory social implications and consequences of social crises for gender relations, relationships and constructions are the focus of this paper session: It will examine past and present crises from various theoretical and empirical perspectives, including intersectional, queer feminist, post-colonial approaches:

  • What role do gender relations and constructions play in times of crises? How do men and women cope with crises?
  • Which implications do crises have for gender-related work and power relations, for work and family-related life courses and social (in)justice?
  • What significance do crises have for the social value of work (e.g. care work) and the social roles associated with it?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities of broaching the gender dimension and other socially constructed differences in the course of a crisis, its public/medial perception and its management?
  • How can gender studies contribute towards ensuring that lessons are learned from the current crises in order to enable a "good life" for everybody?

The gendered consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown on the compatibility of family and work in Switzerland

Stephanie Steinmetz, University of Lausanne; Leen Vandecasteele, University of Lausanne; Florence Lebert, FORS; Marieke Voorpostel, FORS; Oliver Lipps, FORS and University of Bern

COVID-19 and the lockdown have largely paralyzed social and economic life in Switzerland within a few days. Before the pandemic, reconciling family and work was already a challenge for many parents and, in particular, for women. Exposed to the COVID-19 measures, many workers struggled even more with the burden of reduced employment and increased childcare duties resulting from the closure of schools and daycare centers. As a result, families experienced massive and rapid shifts in their division of time between paid and unpaid work. Many parents faced an increase of domestic work, including homeschooling, while simultaneously working from home. Due to these major disruptions and new responsibilities, parents were often forced to renegotiate their work and family roles, including the division of domestic labor.

In this regard, the scientific and public debate discusses two contrasting expectations as to the lockdown consequences on gender equality. Optimistic views predict an increase in gender equality because men (in particular fathers) had more time to engage in household and childcare tasks. Pessimistic views stress that the lockdown has not altered the traditional task division in a household and that women had to shoulder extra care tasks due to school and childcare closures. Depending on the country context and the data used, however, findings have been rather inconclusive so far. In addition, they have not focused on the Swiss context. 

This paper aims to fill this gap by examining how the first lockdown (March-May 2020) affected hours of paid and unpaid work of mothers and fathers in Switzerland using theoretical approaches of economic exchange, time availability and doing-gender. Results are based on two probability-based Swiss data sets: two waves of the Swiss Household Panel (longitudinal, yearly since 1999) and of the FORS-COVID MOSAICH survey (part of the International Social Survey Programme ISSP). Both conducted special COVID-19 surveys between April and June 2020 among private households. Various questions concerned task division of childcare and housework as well as detailed employment information. The advantage of the data is that it allows us to (causally) shed light on the drivers of changes with regard to the time which fathers and mothers spent on paid, care and domestic work before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our preliminary results show that although fathers reduced paid work to a larger extent than mothers, in particular mothers with small children carried most of the additional domestic and care burden emerging from the implemented COVID-19 measures in Switzerland.

Keywords:  gender inequalities, work-family comparability, intersectionality, COVID-19

Gender, family structure and changes in employment in Southern Switzerland during the Covid-19 pandemic

Laurie Corna, SUPSI¹; Sara Levati, SUPSI¹; Danuscia Tschudi, SUPSI¹
¹Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera italiana

Background & Objectives: The implications of the Covid-19 pandemic extend well beyond the realm of health to affect multiple aspects of daily life, including the employment contracts and conditions of individuals. Yet, the implications of these changes have not been equally shared by men and women or across family configurations. The emerging evidence suggests that women have disproportionately borne the brunt in terms of temporary and permanent changes to employment and loss of income, especially those with young or school-aged children. 

In this paper, we analyse whether and how the measures implemented to contain the first wave of the pandemic (February to July 2020) in Canton Ticino, in Southern Switzerland, influence employment according to gender and/or family structure. Canton Ticino is an interesting case study in the county, not only due the severity of the lockdown imposed and the observed (gendered) changes to employment that ensued (Job Statistics-JOBSTAT), but also because of gender inequality rooted in cultural and structural aspects of the economy. Within this macro context, we ask: (1) how are changes to employment contracts and conditions distributed by gender, family composition and caregiving responsibilities; (2) what role do age, education and household resources play; and (3) how do worries and perceptions of risk related to the virus condition these associations? 

Methods: The data come from the Corona Immunitas Ticino project, a population-based, prospective, cohort study that includes 1'085 adults aged 20-64 living in Southern Switzerland with complete baseline data. The study is part of a national research programme launched by the Swiss School of Public Health that investigates the spread and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland. Detailed data on individual socioeconomic position, employment status and conditions, and changes to employment during the pandemic were collected at baseline, along with other sociodemographic details (e.g., household composition, education, and housing). Perceptions and worries related to Covid-19 were collected at baseline and in subsequent monthly questionnaires and a bespoke socioeconomic module was included in November 2020, providing some repeated measures of key socioeconomic variables. We use bivariate statistics and multivariate models to address our research objectives. 

Discussion: We discuss our findings in light of the cantonal and national containment measures, and employment and economic relief policies, and in reference to data on equality and the labour market (Job Statistics, Employment Statistics and Swiss Labour Force Survey). Our approach allows us to discuss the findings in relationship to gender and family structure, but also other key intersecting aspects of social position, such as age and education, which give rise to positions of relative advantage and disadvantage.

Keywords: Gender, employment, family structure, inequality, Covid-19

Impact of Covid-19 on gendered division of labor according to family configurations

Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, University of Lausanne; Jean-Marie Le Goff, University of Lausanne

Living arrangements depend on many (positional) factors such as gender, age, level of education, occupational status and sector of activity. The coresidence with a partner, the presence, age and number and children also exert a strong influence on individual and collective constraints and opportunities, in particular regarding doing gender practices and the division of labor in a broader sense. Additionally, unexpected, non-normative events, in particular when they have a large collective impact, as it is the case with the corona pandemic, may provoke significant systemic reorganizations reflecting to some extent the influence of specific social policies. This paper proposes to capture the intersectionality of the structuring factors at play using a configurational perspective inspired by the work of Norbert Elias and by life course studies. This approach aims at emphasizing the relations existing between individuals rather than focusing solely on “isolated” individuals. This allows observing how these (gendered) interdependencies are affected by the measures of confinement and by the conditions in which they were experienced. Our analyses are done using two waves of the Swiss Household Panel (2019 and the special Covid-19 wave realized in May and June 2020). With the first one, we identify types of household configurations based on the indicators presented above shortly before the Covid-19 crisis. With the second wave of the study (N=5843) that has been purposefully done during the pandemic crisis, we empirically assess its impacts on the household members relationships and on individuals’ outcome such as well-being, changes in occupation and income situation, time use, home schooling, family and social life or how social policies are evaluated, giving a special emphasis to gender relationships and gender structuring configurations.

Keywords: Covid-19, division of labor, family configuration, longitudinal perspective, panel data 

The good life in the lockdown? Differences between women and men with and without children in the household during the Covid-19 lockdown 2020 in Switzerland

Lucia M. Lanfranconi, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

The concept of a good life and how to reach one are long debated philosophical issues. Based on the “capability approach” (Senn 1999; 2012), the good life can be described as the potential and freedom to be able to aim for what a person would like to reach in life. The COVID-19 pandemic was an external shock, which provoked countries over the globe to put in place different versions of lockdowns, described as the closure of many services. In Switzerland from March 16, 2020 to May 11, 2020 most schools remained closed and most families had to take care of their children and other dependent household members. In this moment, the potentials, and freedoms to aim for what each person likes to reach in life was restricted to a high extent. However, not everyone was affected similarly. Therefore, this paper asks: Who could best reach good life during lockdown in spring 2020 of the Covid-19 crisis: Women or men with or without children in the household (HH)? 

This paper is based on an online survey with about 1’000 people – students and employees from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts – Social Work – living in Switzerland during the lockdown. We analyzed the data that was answered between April 23 and May 21, 2020. The following research questions were asked for the four groups of interest, women, and man with or without children in the households: Which differences between the groups emerge during the lockdown in the change of (Q1) behavior, (Q2) consequences from the lockdown as well as (Q3) the support system? We analyzed four questions from the survey by analyzing differences in the responses between the four groups: women and men with and without children in the household. Means have been compared with a variance analysis (ANOVA) and Post-hoc analysis after Bonferroni and Items with a nominal scale have been analyzed with a Chi2-analysis. 

Our results show for all three research questions main differences between persons with children in households, who were restricted more than persons without children in households. By focusing on gender differences in households with children, we find that women with children in the household were restricted the most in how they could aim for their good life. We found these results by looking at their behavior, which was constrained by childcare activities; at the consequences from the lockdown, such as personal conflicts; and a lack of private support system, e.g., support from friends and families. 

From our results, we conclude that women did most of the care-work. However, our results also reveal some unexpected gender-patterns: Men with children in the household expressed restrictions in their behavior and felt a lack of institutional support even stronger than women, which could have positive effects on gender equity. Our analysis suggests the need for better-elaborated family policies in Switzerland and a formalized support in childcare during a lockdown. Those measures would help people with children in the household to live the good life during a lockdown.

Keywords: Gender differences, lockdown, good live, care-work, Covid-19 crisis