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Does the coronavirus crisis have a more severe impact on women than men?

Yes, says Professor Andrea Sieber, our university's Women's Representative. In current times, the conditions of the crisis are aggravating the problematic of gender inequality.

Over recent weeks, there has been much discussion about this; scientists, too, have provided confirmation. The sociologist Jutta Allmendinger refers to a ‘return to the traditional roles’ for men and women. In times of crisis, considerations like gender equality seem to fall by the wayside. Problems that we had believed to be under control – possibly only superficially – suddenly come into focus. It's become apparent now that our work structures are equal only in name. Below the surface, things are not so rosy.

In this crisis, women have been more involved in caring for children. In greater numbers than men, to that end they have tended to work part-time, or to stop work entirely. Where both partners are in full-time employment, it is women who assume the main burden of care. Single-parent families are particularly hard-hit – and 90 per cent of working single parents with children under the age of 13 are women. Moreover, the statistics tell us that more women have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic than men: in March 2020, as many as 223,000 women were registered as unemployed, in contrast to only 38,000 men. It is far too early to predict the long-term consequences – such as effects on poverty among the elderly. It is also significant that women are under-represented in government circles and at expert level. As ever, men are the main determiners of communication in the research field and are the decision-makers in this crisis; yet it is women above all who work on the front line, in the care sector or in retail jobs. The female minister for the family is not a permanent member of the federal government's cabinet on coronavirus; there are 24 men and just two women on the committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, an important political advisor on Covid-19. All these facts spell out a striking imbalance.

The imbalance continues at university level. Numerous academics, myself included, see a drastic reduction in their research achievements during the current period, whilst our male colleagues’ output rises. And this is of course related to the disparity in the share of family care duties. Other problems include the worsening precariousness of employment conditions for junior academics, as well as the financial fall-out for students, especially those who are caring for someone.

In the early stages of the crisis, university management teams, before anything else, were at pains to ensure smooth operations for the sake of students. Insufficient attention was paid to the worries and problems of lecturers. Childcare remains a big concern. And we need to develop a more differentiated view of the topic of the home office; are we robbing young academics of their professional visibility by relegating them to working from home? When engulfed in crisis mode, we were not equipped to solve such questions. But we can learn lessons from experience and establish socially acceptable long-term solutions at the university that allow for the various status groups to be properly considered.

This article was published in the 01/2020 edition of the Campus Passau Magazin.

Professor Andrea Sieber

researches medieval literature and media history

What image of the Middle Ages do the modern media give us?

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Professor Andrea Sieber has been holder of the Professorship of Medieval German Literature at the University of Passau since 2016. The emphasis in her research is on the history of literature and media and the reception of the Middle Ages. Since September 2019 she has been a board member at the Association of German Philologists (DGV).

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