This brief summarizes the research papers presented at the 2022 FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”, which took place on May 11, 2022. It was organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network. Two additional briefs related to the conference are published on the FREE policy briefs website – a brief on gender-based violence in conflict based on the panel discussion, and another sharing preliminary results from the recent FROGEE survey.
While the concerns about domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) have been gaining prominence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were further exacerbated by the devastating events happening in Ukraine. Times of crisis or conflict makes the issue more severe, however, gender-based violence is sadly prevalent at normal times too, and a major portion of it is DV and IPV. Limiting violence towards women requires understanding the determinants of DV and IPV and the channels through which they take effect. With this in mind, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network invited researchers to present their work relating to the economic and social context of domestic violence. This brief provides an account of what was shared at the conference.
Prevention of Domestic Violence: What Works and What Doesn’t?
Three presented studies geared toward evaluating policies aimed to limit violence against women.
Dick Durevall shared his findings on IPV and national policy programs in Colombia, focusing on the laws and policies implemented based on the UN campaign “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” between 2010 and 2015. To evaluate the effect of these policies, he adopts a differences-in-differences design and compares provinces that had a gender policy before this renewed effort with those that did not. This builds on the idea that provinces that had an IPV policy strategy before UN recommendations were adopted are more efficient in implementing new such policies. It is found that self-reported physical violence falls from 20% to 16% between 2010 and 2015 in provinces that had IPV policies while this number remained at 18% in those that did not. While sexual violence decreased in both groups, provinces with IPV policies experienced a stronger reduction.
Accurate reporting is a key issue when it comes to IPV since it makes up the foundation for designing effective policy. Due to long-lasting and tiresome judicial procedures, threats, social barriers, or emotional costs, victims might choose not to report. Looking at the introduction of specialized IPV courts in Spain, Marta Martínez-Matute presented her paper on how institutions shape reporting. Bestowed with specialized staff, victim-oriented resources, and a swifter judicial process, these courts are specifically designed to deal with IPV cases. Martínez-Matute and co-author investigate if these resources make women more prone to report IPV by exploiting the sequential rollout of specialized courts. They use yearly court-level data on individual IPV cases between 2005 and 2018 in a staggered difference-in-differences framework with matched control districts. The results show that the introduction of an IPV court in a judicial district reduces the length of the judiciary process by 61% and increases the reported number of IPV cases by 22%. Ensuring that this increase is not fully driven by a rise in false reports, it is found that the share of dismissed IPV cases remains unchanged. Further, it is shown that the increase is driven by less severe IPV cases and not aggravated IPV offenses or homicides.
A distinctive feature of DV crimes is that there is a high degree of recidivism, with many women experiencing repeated violence from the same partner. However, little is known about how police should respond to such crimes to ensure safety to those victimized. From one perspective police arrests deter repeated DV crimes since they incapacitate perpetrators and allow police to investigate while offering safety to victims. However, some argue that this safety is merely temporary and that DV arrests might trigger offenders to retaliate against victims, leading to increased long-term DV. Against this reasoning, Victoria Endl-Geyer presented a study on the relationship between police arrests and DV dynamics in the UK. It uses highly granular administrative data on the population of DV incidents in the West Midlands which allows the researchers to observe the detailed information on the incidents’ timing and location as well as on police officers and their crime scene responses. It adopts an instrumental variables approach using the dispatch team’s previous propensity to arrest (measured as the weighted average arrest rate of officers in the team) as an instrument. The results provide evidence consistent with a deterrence effect. While regular OLS estimates show an insignificant impact, the IV results indicate that an on-scene arrest decreases repeat DV incidents by 25-26 percentage points. They find that the effect is the same when restricting the sample to incidents reported by a third party, supporting that this effect is not driven by a change in reporting behavior.
Factors of Domestic Violence and its Mechanisms
Other studies presented at the conference focused less on policy assessment and more on identifying the determinants of IPV and DV.
Losing or obtaining a job causes a shock in the intra-relationship dynamics and changes the economic power balance between spouses. Deniz Sanin presented her paper on the DV effect of women’s employment in the context of Rwanda. Following the government-initiated National Coffee Strategy in 2002, the number of coffee mills in Rwanda increased from 5 to 213 over the course of ten years. This natural experiment allows studying the effect of having a paid job as it captures the shift from unpaid labor on a family farm to paid work on a mill, keeping job-related skills constant. Using survey data on both DV and labor market outcomes along with administrative data on DV hospitalizations, the study adopts a staggered difference-in-differences strategy and compares women before and after mill opening as well as within and outside of the catchment area (a buffer zone surrounding the mill). The results show that upon mill opening, the probability of working for cash increases and that of self-reporting domestic violence in the past 12 months decreases by 26% (relative to the baseline of 0.35). During the harvest months, the only period of the year in which the mills operate, hospitals are significantly less likely to admit DV patients compared to the month before the harvest season, suggesting that the initial results are not driven by reporting bias. Looking at the mechanisms, she finds evidence supporting an increased bargaining power explanation – women in catchment areas who are exposed to mill opening are more likely to have a bigger say in household decisions such as larger household purchases and contraception usage. Increases in husbands’ earnings and decreased exposure are also ruled out as possible channels since a decline in DV is also found among spouses where the husband works in a different occupation with no change in earnings.
Rather than studying the impact of women’s employment status, Cristina Clerici shared a related paper that focuses on male unemployment. To investigate its effect on IPV, the study exploits the exogenous shock to employment caused by COVID-19 containment measures in Uganda. The authors collect individual-level data via phone surveys on the incidence of IPV among food vendors, including information on husbands’ sector of employment. To identify a causal DV effect of male employment exit, the authors distinguish between two groups of women with similar pre-lockdown experiences of abuse: those with spouses employed in sectors where operations were halted by COVID-19 lockdowns (construction workers, taxi drivers, etc.) and those with spouses who were unaffected (food vendors, farmers, etc.). The results show that male unemployment increases the probability of experiencing physical violence by 4.9 percentage points, corresponding to a 45% increase relative to the average likelihood. The effect cannot be explained by increased exposure (the man being more at home) – affected and unaffected women spend on average an equal number of nights in the market, which could be used as a coping mechanism. This suggests it is the change in unemployment status itself that drives the increase in DV.
While most of the literature on domestic abuse has documented that its drivers often come from changing life conditions of the victim or perpetrator, there is broad anecdotal evidence that exogenous events can lead to exacerbations in domestic violence as well. Ria Ivandic presented her paper that documents a causal link between major football games and domestic violence in England. The authors use a dataset on the universe of calls and crimes in the Greater Manchester area. The data provides a time series on the incidence of different types of domestic abuse with information on the timing, relationship to the accused, and individual characteristics of the victim and perpetrator, including whether the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. They adopt an event study approach focusing on the hours surrounding a game and document a substitution effect in that the two-hour duration of a football game is associated with a 5% decline in DV incidents. However, following the game, the initial decrease is offset as DV incidents start increasing and culminate after 10-12 hours, eventually leading to an aggregate positive effect which constitutes a 2.8% hourly increase on days when games are played.
The authors argue that alcohol consumption, rather than emotions, is the main mechanism through which domestic violence is affected by sporting events. Supporting this hypothesis, they first find that the outcome of the game or the associated element of surprise (measured using the ex-ante probability of winning a game through betting markets) does not affect the probability of DV occurring. Second, they show that the increase in DV following a game is solely driven by an increase in alcohol-related DV incidents, while those committed by non-alcoholized men remain constant. Further strengthening this finding, it is shown that for games scheduled early in the day, when perpetrators can start drinking sooner and continue throughout the day, they find a significant increase in DV incidents committed by alcoholized perpetrators while this is not the case for late-scheduled games.
The Role of Women’s Empowerment
In the literature on gender-based violence, there is a common disposition to think about women’s empowerment as a central element of DV mitigation. However, theories point in opposite directions making the effect of women’s economic empowerment rather unclear. On one end of the spectrum, there are bargaining theories indicating that an increase in women’s employment opportunities or income should have a negative effect on DV by creating outside options or increasing the bargaining power in a relationship. At the other end, there are backslash theories arguing that enhancing women’s financial empowerment may further exacerbate violence by undermining the role of the breadwinner, triggering male partners to retaliate with the use of violence in order to restore the power balance. Going in the same direction, theories of instrumental violence point towards that the male partner might also use violence to extract resources.
In her keynote lecture, Bilge Erten outlined the evidence relating to DV and women’s empowerment and discussed to what extent and in which contexts these theories are supported.
The evidence of a positive or negative effect of empowerment may depend on which aspect of it is studied. Education is seen as an important one because it has the potential to raise women’s self-awareness of IPV, increase the likelihood of matching with a well-educated partner (which is negatively correlated to abusive behavior), and improve labor market outcomes. Although evidence is scarce in this area, Erten shared her own findings on the causal effect of education reform on IPV in Turkey. In line with instrumental violence theories, it is found that, while women in cohorts affected by the reform performed better in the labor market, they experienced more psychological violence and financial control behavior, and there was no sign of an effect on DV attitudes, partner-match quality or marriage decisions.
What we know about women’s empowerment and DV is also different across countries. When it comes to the effect of employment, findings from developed countries are generally consistent with bargaining theory explanations while what is found in the developing world is more mixed. This is also the case for studies on unilateral divorce laws – while a negative effect on IPV has been documented in the United States, a positive effect of these laws is found in Mexico.
Assessing the literature on the income effect leads to a somewhat ambiguous verdict too. Although generally, most studies confirm that overall violence declines with women’s income, there is often heterogeneity in the effect. It has for instance been found that the sign of the income effect from cash transfers on DV changes from negative to positive as the size of the transfer increases.
Finally, Erten provided some important policy considerations. There is evidently a widespread backlash problem that can arise after a policy intervention of the types discussed above. Policymakers need to think more about monitoring and protecting victims from more violence when implementing such a policy. Further research assessing post-intervention is also needed to identify interventions that are the most effective in minimizing domestic violence. In particular, a change in broad social norms around gender roles should be a desirable outcome, to the effect that a new, improved status of women in society and in the household becomes more culturally acceptable and needs not lead to backlash. In the case of expressive violence (that is not a rational, calculated response but rather a compulsion in the heat of the moment), mental health interventions should also be considered.
As highlighted by the 2022 FROGEE conference, domestic violence not only has been put in the spotlight following the pandemic or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but is widespread across the globe in regular conditions too. The mixed findings shared at the conference suggested that policies limiting gender-based violence should be designed with respect to the cultural and social setting where they are to be implemented as the heterogeneity is very high across contexts. Although research has come a long way, the conference stressed that there is much more to be done, in terms of not only knowledge but also the political will and commitment to seriously address the issue of gender-based violence.
List of Speakers
- Cristina Clerici, Ph.D. Student in Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics.
- Dick Durevall, Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Gothenburg.
- Victoria Endl-Geyer, Doctoral Student at the IFO Institute.
- Bilge Erten, Associate Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research at Northeastern University.
- Ria Ivandic, Associate Researcher at the London School of Economics.
- Marta Martínez-Matute, Assistant Professor at the Department of Economic Analysis at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
- Deniz Sanin, Ph.D. Candidate at Georgetown University.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.
Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts
During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.
One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).
Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).
Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.
Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).
The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).
The War in Ukraine
Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.
At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).
Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement
Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement
Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.
As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).
While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.
Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).
What Can Be Done?
Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.
Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.
When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.
Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.
Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).
In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.
Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.
- Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
- Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica, 85(338), 205-231.
- Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics, 98(2), 209-225.
- Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
- Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
- Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 12(3), pp.127-134.
- Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents, 6.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This brief presents preliminary findings from a cross-country survey on perceptions and prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence conducted in September 2021 in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. We discuss the design and content of the study and present initial information on selected topics that were covered in the survey. The collected data has been used in three studies presented at the FROGEE Conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” and offers a unique resource to study gender-based violence in the region.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tragically reminded us about the gender dimension of war. There is no doubt that a gender lens is a necessary perspective to understand and appreciate the full consequences of these two ongoing crises.
The tragic reason behind the increased attention given to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns is the substantial evidence that gender-based violence has intensified to such an extent that the United Nations raised the alarm about a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls (UN Women on-line link). Already before the pandemic, one in three women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of an intimate partner, and this number has only been increasing. The tragic reports from the military invasion of Ukraine concerning violence against women and children, as well as information on the heightened risks faced by war refugees from Ukraine, most of whom are women, should only intensify our efforts to better understand the background behind these processes and study the potential policy solutions to limit them to a minimum in the current and future crises.
The most direct consequences of gender-based and domestic violence – to the physical and mental health of the victims – are clearly of the highest concern and are the leading arguments in favour of interventions aimed at limiting the scale of violence. One should remember though, that the consequences and the related social costs of gender-based and domestic violence are far broader, and need not be caused by direct acts of physical violence. Gender-based and domestic violence can take the form of psychological pressure, limits on individual freedoms, or access to financial resources within households. As research in recent decades demonstrates, such forms of abuse also have significant consequences for the psychological well-being, social status, and professional development of its victims. All these outcomes are associated with not only high individual costs, but also with substantial social and economic costs to our societies.
This policy brief presents an outline of a survey conducted in eight countries aimed at better understanding the socio-economic context of gender-based violence. The survey, developed by the FREE Network of independent research institutes, has a regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with Sweden being an interesting benchmark country. The data was collected in September 2021 in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The socio-economic situation of all these countries irrevocably changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the ongoing war, and its dramatic consequences. The world’s attention focused on the unspeakable violence committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine, the persecution in Belarus and Russia of their own citizens who were protesting against the invasion, and the challenges other neighbouring countries have faced as a result of an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees. This change, on the one hand, calls for a certain distance with which we should judge the survey data and the derived results. On the other hand, the data may serve as a unique resource to support the analysis of the pre-war conditions in these countries with the aim to understand the background driving forces behind this dramatic crisis. In as much as the gender lens is necessary to comprehend the full scale of the consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it will be equally indispensable in the process of post-war development and reconciliation once peace is again restored.
Survey Design, Countries, and Samples
The survey was conducted in eight countries in September 2021 through as a telephone (CATI) survey using the list assisted random digit dialling (LA-RDD) method covering both cell phones and land-lines, and the sampling was carried out in such a way as to make the final sample representative of the respective populations by gender and three age group (18-39; 40-54; 55+). The collected samples varied from 925 to 1000 individuals. The same questionnaire initially prepared as a generic English version was fielded in all eight countries (in the respective national languages). The only deviations from the generic version were related to the education categories and to a set of final questions implemented in Latvia, Russia and Ukraine with a focus on the evaluation of national IPV legislation.
Table 1 presents some basic sample statistics, while Figure 1 shows the unweighted age and gender compositions in each country. The proportion of women in the sample varies between 49.4% in Sweden and 55.0% in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The average sample age is between 43 (Armenia) and 51 (Sweden), while the proportion of individuals with higher education is between 29.3% in Belarus and 55.4% in Georgia. The highest proportion of respondents living in rural areas could be found in Armenia at 62.9%, while the lowest was in Georgia at 24.1%. Figure 1 illustrates good coverage across age groups for both men and women.
Table 1. FROGEE Survey: samples and basic demographics
Figure 1. FROGEE Survey: gender and age distributions
Socio-economic Conditions and Other Background Characteristics
To be able to examine the relationship between different aspects of domestic and gender-based violence to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, an extensive set of questions concerning the demographic composition of their household and their material conditions were asked at the beginning of the interview. These questions included information about partnership history and family structure, the size of the household and living conditions, education and labour market status (of the respondent and his/her partner) and general questions concerning material wellbeing. In Figure 2 we show a summary of two of the latter set of questions – the proportion of men and women who find it difficult or very difficult to make ends meet (Figure 2A) and the proportion who declared that the financial situation of their household deteriorated in the last two years, i.e. since September 2019, which can be used as an indicator of the material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see that the difficulties in making ends meet are by far lowest in Sweden, and slightly lower in the other EU countries (Latvia and Poland). The differences are less pronounced with regard to the implication of the pandemic, but also in this case respondents in Sweden seem to have been least affected.
Figure 2. Making ends meet and the consequences of COVID-19
a. Difficulties in making ends meet
b. Material conditions deteriorated since 2019
Perceptions and Incidence of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse
Frequency of differential treatment and abuse
The set of questions concerning domestic and gender-based violence started with an initial module related to the different treatment of men and women, with respondents asked to identify how often they witnessed certain behaviours aimed toward women. The questions covered aspects such as women being treated “with less courtesy than men”, being “called names or insulted for being a woman” and women being “the target of jokes of sexual nature” or receiving “unwanted sexual advances from a man she doesn’t know”, and the respondents were to evaluate if in the last year they have witnessed such behaviours on a scale from never, through rarely, sometimes, often, to very often. We present the proportion of respondents answering “often” or “very often” to two of these questions in Figure 3A (“People have acted as if they think women are not smart”) and 3B (“A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature”). We find significant variation across these two dimensions of differential treatment, and we generally find that women are more sensitive to perceiving such treatment. It is interesting to note that the proportion of women who declared witnessing differential treatment in Sweden is very high in comparison to for example Latvia or Belarus, which, as we shall see below, does not correspond to the proportion of women (and men) witnessing more violent types of behaviour against women.
Figure 3. Frequency of differential treatment (often or very often)
a. People have acted as if they think women are not smart
b. A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature
Questions on the frequency of witnessing physical abuse were also asked in relation to the scale of witnessed behaviour. Here respondents were once again asked to say how often “in their day-to-day life” they have witnessed specific behaviours. These included such types of abuse as: a woman being “threatened by a man”, “slapped, hit or punched by a man”, or “sexually abused or assaulted by a man”. The proportion of respondents who say that they have witnessed such behaviour with respect to two of the questions from this section are presented in Figure 4. In Figure 4A we show the proportion of men and women who have witnessed a woman being “slapped, hit or punched” (sometimes, often or very often), while in Figure 4B being “touched inappropriately without her consent”. Relative to the perceptions of differential treatment the incidence of a woman being hit or punched (4A) declared by the respondents seems more intuitive when considered against the overall international statistics of gender equality. The proportions are lowest in Sweden and Poland, and highest in Armenia and Ukraine. However, the perception of inappropriate touching by men with respect to women (Figure 4B) shows a similar extent of such actions across all analysed countries.
Figure 4. Frequency of abuse (sometimes, often or very often)
a. A woman has been slapped, hit or punched by a man
b. A woman has been touched inappropriately, without her consent, by a man
Perceptions of abuse
The questions concerning the scale of witnessed behaviours were complemented by a module related to the evaluation of certain behaviours from the perspective of their classification as abuse and the degree to which certain types of gender-specific behaviours are acceptable. Thus, for example respondents were asked if they consider “beating (one’s partner) causing severe physical harm” to be an example of abuse within a couple (Figure 5A) or if “prohibition to dress as one likes” represents abuse (Figure 5B). This module included an extensive list of behaviours, such as “forced abortion”, “constant humiliation, criticism”, “restriction of access to financial resources”, etc. As we can see in Figure 6, with respect to the clearest types of abuse – such as physical violence – respondents in all countries were pretty much unanimous in declaring such behaviour to represent abuse. With respect to other behaviours the variation in their evaluation across countries is much greater – for example, while nearly all men and women in Sweden consider prohibiting a partner to dress as he/she likes to be abusive (Figure 5B), only about 57% of women and 36% of men in Armenia share this view.
The questionnaire also included questions specifically focused on the perception of intimate partner violence. These asked respondents if they knew about women who in the last three months were “beaten, slapped or threatened physically by their intimate partner”, and the evaluation of how often intimate partners act physically violent towards their wives.
Figure 5. Perceptions of abuse: are these examples of abuse within a couple?
a. Beating causing severe physical harm
b. Prohibition to dress as one likes
A further evaluation of attitudes towards violent behaviour was done with respect to the relationship between a husband and wife and his right to hit or beat the wife in reaction to certain behaviours. In Figure 6 we show the distribution of responses regarding the justification for beating one’s wife in reaction to her neglect of the children (6A) or burning food (6B). The questions also covered such behaviour as arguing with her husband, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sex. As we can see in Figure 6, once again we find substantial country variation in the proportion of the samples – both men and women – who justify such violent behaviour within couples. This was particularly the case when respondents were asked about justification of violent behaviour in the case of a woman neglecting the children. In Armenia as many as 30% of men and 22% of women agree that physical beating is justified in those cases. These proportions are manyfold greater than what can be observed in countries such as Latvia, where 3% of men and women agreed that abuse was justifiable under these circumstances, or Sweden, where only 1% of men and women agreed.
Figure 6. Perceptions of abuse: is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife
a. If she neglects the children
b. If she burns the food
Seeking help and the legal framework
The final part of the questionnaire focused on the evaluation of different reactions to incidents of domestic and gender-based violence. Respondents were first asked if a woman should seek help from various people and institutions if she is beaten by her partner – respondents were asked if she should seek help from the police, relatives or friends, a psychologist, a legal service or if, in such situations, she does not need help. In Figure 7 we show the proportion of people who agreed with the last statement, i.e. claimed that it is only the couple’s business. The proportions of respondents who declare such an attitude is higher among men than women within each country, and is highest among men in Armenia (48%) and Georgia (25%). Again, these proportions are in stark contrast to men in Sweden, or even Poland, where only 4% and 8% of men agreed, respectively. Nevertheless, looking at the total survey sample, a vast majority believe that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should seek help outside of her home, indicating that at least some forms of institutionalised support for women are popular measures with most people.
Figure 7. Proportions agreeing that domestic violence is only the couple’s business
The interview also included questions on the need for specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence and on the existence of such legislation in the respondents’ countries. The latter questions were extended in three countries – Latvia, Russia and Ukraine – to evaluate the specific sets of regulations implemented recently in these countries and to facilitate an analysis of the role IPV legislation can play in reducing violence within households. Legislation on domestic violence is relatively recent. During the last four decades, though, changes accelerated in this respect around the world. Legislative measures have been introduced in many countries, covering different aspects of preventing, protecting against and prosecuting various forms of violence and abuse that might happen within the marriage or the family. Research strives to offer evaluations on what legal provisions are most effective, in a setting in which statistics and information are still far from perfect, and as a consequence of the dearth of strong evidence the public debate on the matter is often lively. For legislation to have an effect on behaviour through shaping the cost of committing a crime, on the one hand, and the benefit of reporting it or seeking help, on the other, or more indirectly through changing norms in society, information and awareness are key. For how can deterrence be achieved if people do not know what the sanctions are? And how can reporting be encouraged if victims do not know their rights? The evidence on legislation awareness is unfortunately quite scarce. A survey of the criminology field (Nagin, 2013) concludes that this is a major knowledge gap.
Figure 8 shows the proportions of answers to questions concerning the need for and existence of legislation specifically targeted towards intimate partner violence. We can see that while support for such legislation is quite high (Figure 8A), it is generally lower among men (in particular in Armenia, Russia and Belarus). Awareness of existence of such laws, on the other hand, is much lower, and it is particularly low among women. It should be pointed out that all countries have in fact implemented provisions against domestic violence in their criminal code, but only around half of the population, sometimes much fewer, are aware of that.
Figure 8. Need for and awareness of IPV legislation
a. State should have specific legislation aimed at punishing IPV
b. Country has specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence
Recent reforms of DV legislation that were implemented in Russia in 2017, in Ukraine in 2019 and in Latvia just a few months ago (at the time of the survey, the changes were at the stage of a proposal) were the subject of the final survey questions in these countries. We find that awareness of these recent reforms is very low in all three countries, and knowledge about the reform content (gauged with the help of a multiple-choice question with three alternative statements) is even lower. Our analysis suggests that gender and family situation are the two factors that most robustly predict support for legislation, while education and age are associated with awareness and knowledge of the reforms. Minority Russian speakers are less aware of the reforms in both Ukraine and Latvia, in Ukraine are also less likely to answer correctly about the content of the reform, and in Latvia are less supportive of DV legislation in general.
Analyses of this type are useful for policy design, to better understand which groups lack relevant knowledge and should be targeted by, for example, information campaigns to combat DV, such as those many governments around the world implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.
Future Work Based on the Survey
The above is just a small sample of the rich source of information that has resulted from conducting the survey. Already from this simple overview we can see some interesting results. There are, for example, clear differences between men and women in perceptions of how common certain types of abusive behaviour are. However, for many questions differences between countries are larger than those between men and women within a country. Interestingly such differences are also different depending on the severity of the abuse or violence. In Sweden the perception of women being victims of less violent abuse is higher than in some other countries where instead some more violent types of abuse are reported as being more common. This could, of course, be due to actual differences in actual events but it is also possible that there are differences in what types of behaviour are considered to represent harassment and abuse in different societies. More careful data work is needed to try to answer questions like this and many others. Currently there are a number of ongoing research projects based on the survey results, three of which will be presented at the FREE-network conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” in Stockholm on May 11, 2022. Our hope is that this work will help in taking actions to prevent gender-based abuse and domestic violence based on a better understanding of underlying cross-country differences in social norms and attitudes and their relation to socio-economic factors.
About FROGEE Policy Briefs
FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.
The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Gender inequality has been a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem for years. The COVID-induced crisis put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged position, jeopardizing decades of progress achieved towards equality between men and women. However, these effects of the pandemic were not universal across countries. This policy brief aims to evaluate the gender-specific effects of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia, looking at labor market outcomes and entrepreneurial activities. As expected, the impact of the pandemic was not gender-neutral in this regard, being especially harmful for women. As the Georgian economy rebounds after the crisis, we show that the widened gender gaps are partially offset only in certain aspects. In order to countervail the disproportionate effects of the pandemic, targeted policy measures are needed to stimulate women’s economic activity.
Past economic recessions, including the COVID-induced crisis, have never been gender-neutral (e.g., Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020). While economic crises are usually associated with disproportionate negative impacts on labor market outcomes of men compared to women, the impact of the crisis is, debatably, more severe for women-led businesses as compared to their male-led counterparts (e.g., Torres, 2021; Nordman and Vaillant, 2014; Grimm et al.,2012).
The disproportionate labor market outcomes of economic crises are claimed to be due to the fact that men are predominantly employed in cyclical sectors such as construction or manufacturing; therefore, women have to increase their employment during economic downturns as a means of within-family insurance (Alon et al., 2021). The recent COVID-induced crisis, due to its unique nature, turns out to be an exception in this regard. The pandemic and the subsequently-adopted measures primarily adversely affected contact-intensive sectors (where the worker is required to perform tasks in close physical proximity to other people) that predominantly employ women (Mongey, Pilossoph, and Weinberg 2020; Albanesi and Kim 2021). Moreover, large-scale lockdowns increased the burden of unpaid care, which is generally shouldered by women disproportionately (Babych, 2021), leaving less available time for them to work. It should be noted that gender gaps in the labor market were a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem even before the pandemic (Eurofound, 2016). Therefore, COVID-19 poses a threat jeopardizing the progress achieved in this direction and worsening gender inequality.
COVID-19 brought unprecedented adverse consequences for not only employed workers but entrepreneurs as well. Increased unpaid care and housework pose additional burdens on female top managers, making women-led businesses more vulnerable to the crisis.
The unequal gender implications of the COVID-19 crisis have been widely debated. Growing evidence (Albanesi and Kim 2021; Torres et al., 2021; Alon et al., 2020; Caselli et al., 2020, Fabrizio et al., 2021) attests that, on average, the effects of the pandemic put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged economic position. However, the extent of this effect varies across countries and is absent in some cases (Campa et al., 2021; Torres et al., 2021).
This policy brief aims to examine the gender-specific nature of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia. With this aim, we study the differential effects of the pandemic on the economic activity of women in terms of labor market outcomes and entrepreneurship. First, we contrast labor market outcomes for Georgian men and women during the COVID-19 crisis. Secondly, we try to assess the magnitude of the disproportionate impact on women-led businesses compared to men-led ones. We calculate gender gaps across different measures of firm-level performance, such as sales revenue, liquidity and owners’ expectations of falling into arrears. Finally, we examine whether there are any signs of recovery yet in 2021 and draw policymakers’ attention to emerging issues.
Labor market highlights
The adverse effects of the pandemic on female employment were conditioned by both supply and demand-side factors. The latter include decreased economic activity, mainly in service-related sectors (hospitality, personal care, etc.) that are dominated by women (Eurofound, 2021). In Georgia, as of 2019, women constituted the majority of workers in sectors such as hospitality (56%), education (83%) and activities of households as employers of domestic personnel (99%) that experienced some of the sharpest declines in employment during 2020. Moreover, women are more likely to be employed in part-time and temporary jobs (14% of women, as opposed to 11% of men, were employed part-time as of 2019, Geostat Labor Force Survey 2019), leaving them more vulnerable during times of crisis. Supply-side factors were triggered by the unequal burden of unpaid work generally undertaken by women in Georgia, mainly due to cultural reasons as well as the higher opportunity cost of time for men (women in Georgia on average earned 64% of men’s salaries in 2019, Geostat). School and daycare closures and decreased childcare involvement of grandparents increased household responsibilities for women. A UN Women survey-based study showed that in the midst of the pandemic in Georgia, around 42% of women reported spending more time on at least one extra domestic task as opposed to 35% of men (UN Women, 2020). This would naturally lead to more women than men leaving the labor force. Indeed, looking at the data, we see that in one year after the COVID-19 outbreak, women contributed to 98% (48,000 individuals) of the decrease in the Georgian labor force in 2020 (Geostat). Moreover, a close look at the percentage point difference between the labor force participation rates of Georgian men and women reveals a notable growth in the gender gap starting from 2020. The same can be said about employment rates (Figure 2).
Figure 1. Difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates
To further elaborate on the tendencies in employment, Bluedorn et al. (2021) look at the differences between employment rate changes among male and female workers in 38 advanced and emerging economies. Replicating the exercise with the Georgian data, we can observe results similar to those obtained in Bluedorn et al. (2021). In Figure 2, we see differences between female and male employment rate changes. For each gender group, the latter is computed as an absolute difference between the quarterly employment rate and its annual average level from the previous year. Once the difference takes a negative value, implying that the drop in employment was sharper for women, one could say that we observe a “She-cession” phenomenon as termed by Bluedorn et al. (2021). As we can see, in 2020, the employment rate of women fell more than that of men. This widened gender gap was partially offset in 2021.
Figure 2. Employment rate changes by gender (deviation from the previous year average)
Remote work: a burden or a blessing for women?
One important aspect of the COVID-19 crisis was a wide-scale switch to remote work. This development had some gender-specific implications as well. The evidence shows that the prevalence of the switch to remote work was higher among women compared to men (41% vs. 37%) in the EU (Sostero et al., 2020). This tendency also holds in Georgia, where 11% of women as opposed to only 3% of men reported usually working from home in the last three quarters of 2020 (Julakidze and Kardava, 2021). It is not clear whether this tendency can be explained by gender-related occupational differences of male and female jobs (Dingel and Neiman, 2020; Boeri and Paccagnella, 2020; Sostero et al., 2020) or, rather, different personal choices of men and women working in the same occupations. Interestingly, across different countries, we observe a positive correlation between gender inequality (as measured by the Gender Inequality Index) and gender differences in the switch to remote work (measured by the ratio of the share of remote workers among female and male workers). To account for this observation, we can stipulate that gender differences in switching to remote work might be explained by differing gender roles in households, and in society at large, across countries (as proxied by the gender inequality index).
Figure 3. Relative prevalence of remote work among female and male workers
Regardless of the reason, remote work is likely to have some important implications on gender roles. However, the directionality of these implications is not straightforward. On the one hand, remote work offers flexibility for women to juggle household and work responsibilities. On the other hand, since women compared to men have been shown to be more likely to use the time saved from commuting to engage in housework, the switch to remote work might increase their “total responsibility burden” (Ransome, 2007) and lead to time poverty (Peters et al., 2004; Hilbrecht, Shaw, Johnson and Andrey, 2008). Indeed, according to CARE International South Caucasus (2020), around 48% of female survey participants in Georgia placed additional effort into housework and childcare in the midst of the pandemic. Moreover, as women are more likely and expected to use remote working as a means of balancing work-life responsibilities (Moran and Koslowski, 2019) their bargaining power at work decreases relative to their male counterparts. This could have some adverse career implications for female workers. Recent enforced lockdowns might pose an opportunity in this regard, as once-remote work becomes something close to a “new normal” employers will likely decrease the penalty for remote workers.
Spotlight on women-led business performance during the COVID-19 crisis
Calamities brought by the pandemic worsened financial outcomes for enterprises, affecting their ability to operate and have stable financial income. Similar to other crises, the pandemic has not been gender-neutral (Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020) in terms of the effect on business performance.
Gaps in the performance of women- and men-led businesses have been prevalent beyond any economic crisis as well, and have been documented in a number of studies (e.g., Amin, 2011; Bardasi et al., 2011), registering gender differences in sales and productivity in favor of men-owned enterprises. As suggested by Campos et al. (2019), these performance gaps may be due to lower levels of capital owned by women as opposed to men, a smaller number of employees hired by women-owned firms, as well as different practices in using advanced business tools and innovation. In addition, the existence of these gender gaps has also been explained as stemming from the prevailing social norms that assign certain obligations to women. Nordman and Vaillant (2014) and Grimm et al. (2012) suggest that unpaid housework and family-care led to a constrained number of hours women could afford to spend on the work and management of firms, negatively affecting their productivity.
According to the Women Entrepreneurship Report (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 2021), the pandemic imposed an additional burden in terms of increasing family-care duties on women. The GEM survey (2021) conducted in 43 countries worldwide shows that the likelihood of enterprise closure is 20% higher for women-led compared to men-led businesses. The higher likelihood of closure reflects the adverse factors that may have hindered the operating capacity of firms. For example, a survey conducted by UNIDO (2020) suggests that, as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, African and Middle Eastern women-led firms experienced diminished revenues. In addition, 41% of women-led firms were short of cash flow and unable to fulfill financial obligations, while only 32% of male entrepreneurs were exposed to the same problem.
More rigorous analysis on this matter has been conducted by Torres et al. (2021) and Liu et al. (2021). They try to examine the asymmetric effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led firms in several dimensions utilizing new datasets from the World Bank: COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and the World Bank Business Pulse Survey. The findings of Liu et al. (2021) for 24 countries from Central Europe & Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa confirm that during the pandemic women-led businesses are subject to a higher likelihood of closure than men-led businesses and that female top managers are more pessimistic about the future than their male counterparts. Finance and labor factors were mentioned to be the major contributors to these disadvantages; for example, women-led businesses were found to be less likely to receive bank loans compared to men-led businesses. Lastly, the disadvantages experienced by women-led firms were claimed to widen in highly gender-unequal economies and developing countries. Torres et al. (2021) study the impact of the early phase of the COVID-crisis on gender gaps in firm performance for 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries. The results demonstrate that women-led businesses experienced a greater reduction in sales and lower liquidity compared to their male counterparts, which has been reflected in a higher likelihood for women-led companies in several sectors to fall into arrears. On the other hand, as a response to changing circumstances, women-led firms were found to be more likely to increase the utilization of online platforms and make product innovations. Nevertheless, they struggled to obtain any form of public support.
The impact of the pandemic on firms was not gender-neutral in Georgia
The pandemic-induced fragile environment had an adverse impact on entrepreneurs in Georgia– the effects of the shock were significantly more severe for female entrepreneurs than for their male counterparts. In order to assess the gender differences in the impact of the pandemic on firms, we utilize firm-level data on Georgian enterprises from the second round of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey, conducted in October – November 2020.
Following the methodology as presented in Torres et al. (2021), we assess whether there are differences in the magnitude of reduction in sales revenue (self-reported percentage change in sales revenue one month before the interview as compared to the same period of 2019) and available liquidity for women- and men-led businesses, and whether falling into arrears in any outstanding liabilities is more expected by female top managers (in the next six months from the interview).
Depending on the type of dependent variable, continuous or binary, either Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) or Probit models are estimated, respectively. Along with the gender of the top manager of firms, we also control for sector and firm size. The Georgian database contains a total of 701 enterprises (581 SMEs and 120 micro-businesses).
Table 1. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, October-November 2020
Table 1 presents the results of the regression analysis of gender differences among Georgian enterprises in terms of the impact of the pandemic. As observed, women-led businesses reported larger declines in sales, revenues, and liquidity. The predicted drop in sales was 18 percentage points (pp) higher for enterprises with a female top manager than for men-led firms. The larger drop in sales should have been reflected in the reduced cash flow availability and in hardship to cover operating costs. Indeed, as the results demonstrate, women-led enterprises are on average 12.9 pp more likely to have reduced availability of liquidity. This may explain women’s negative future expectations. Moreover, the average predicted probability of expecting to fall into arrears is 11.3 pp higher for women-led firms in Georgia as compared to men-led businesses.
The unequal effect of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led businesses might have been fueled by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and housework shouldered by women in Georgia, leaving less time available for work and managing enterprises. On the other hand, as Torres et al. (2021) claim, female business owners tend to employ more female workers (the social group more exposed to the unequal burden of the pandemic) than male owners. This, in turn, could further hamper the productivity of women-led businesses and increase their vulnerability to economic shocks.
On the road to recovery
2021 has been characterized by a rather rapid recovery for the Georgian economy, as evidenced by the 10.6% (preliminary estimate) annual growth rate of real GDP. Signs of recovery can also be observed in the labor market – the labor force increased by 4% (YoY) in the 3rd quarter of 2021, while employment was also characterized by a growing trend (1%, YoY).
Along the lines of economic recovery, the gender gap in the labor market also seems to be narrowing. For instance, the steadily growing gap between male and female labor force participation rates seems to stagnate over 2021 (Figure 1). Moreover, as is illustrated in Figure 2 above, the difference between women’s and men’s employment rate changes is positive in 2021, meaning that the employment rate was increasing more (or decreasing less) for women. If this tendency persists, we might stipulate that the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on female employment are on the way to recovery.
To examine whether Georgian firms have experienced concurrent movement in their performance along with the economic recovery, we utilize third-round data (from September 2021) of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and scrutinize whether the gender differences have narrowed since the previous round of the survey (Table 2).
Table 2. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, September 2021.
Although the third-round survey data suggests that the predicted percentage drop in sales sharply declined for both men- and women-led businesses, the findings are not statistically significant and therefore cannot claim any signs of recovery in the gender gap in this respect. No signs of recovery are observed in terms of average predicted probability of reduced liquidity of firms and expectations of falling into arrears, either. Gender gaps in these two indicators still persist and are as strong in magnitude as in the second-round survey estimates (from October-November 2020). It seems that despite the economic rebound, not all traces of the pandemic crisis for firms have been eradicated from a gender perspective.
The pandemic came with high economic costs. It hit women disproportionately harder, adversely affecting their employment and entrepreneurial prospects. The unequal burden of the COVID-crisis shouldered by women in Georgia could be one of the reasons for the massive labor force dropouts among female workers and poor performance of women-led businesses. Georgian enterprises with female owners experienced a significantly larger decline in sales compared to their male-owned counterparts, consequently suffering from a shortage of cash flow and fears of falling into arrears.
Despite the great rebound in growth after the initial COVID-19 shock, the pandemic-associated increase in the gender gap seems to have been only partially offset in Georgia. In particular, there is a larger positive upsurge in women’s employment rate, as well as a diminishing difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates. Following the ongoing recovery in sales revenue of Georgian enterprises (though the predicted gender difference was statistically insignificant), the gender gap in sales is shrinking too. But, in spite of the economic rebound, differences in available liquidity and expectations of falling into arrears have not yet been eradicated, indicating that the adverse influence of the pandemic on women still persists. It leaves female entrepreneurs a still more vulnerable group, which could be of special interest to policymakers to ease their liquidity problems.
Policies should also be directed towards encouraging women to become more economically active. In this regard, remote work seems to pose an opportunity if coupled with affordable childcare support policies.
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There is anecdotal evidence that countries with female leadership in policymaking are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper studies whether countries with high female representativeness in political and social layers respond differently to the Covid-19 outbreak. We explore patterns at a cross-country level, which enables us to consider the variation of gender implicated institutions. Our findings indicate that it is women’s social representation, rather than female political leadership, that has the potential to capture cross-country variation in Covid-19 policy responses. Our study confirms that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down but rather from the bottom-up.
In light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting actions developed and implemented by countries worldwide, questions have been raised about government policy responses and what can trigger them. The pandemic brought forward the need for measures that help mitigate the spread of the virus such as hand washing, reduced face touching, face mask policies, and physical distancing. In many countries, the implementation of lockdowns and social distancing measures had a large impact on employment, including reductions in working hours, furloughs, and work from home arrangements (Brodeur et al., 2020; Coibion et al., 2020; Gupta et al., 2020). There are notable concerns about the potential damage non-pharmaceutical interventions can inflict on economies and labor markets (Andersen et al., 2020; Kong and Prinz, 2020). Further, the implementation of these measures requires certain institutional and individual behavioral changes. While some countries were successful in developing and implementing policy responses that addressed the challenges of the pandemic, others have experienced considerable difficulties.
There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that countries with female leadership in governmental policies are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Several articles from prominent media outlets, such as CNN, The Conversation and Forbes, hypothesize that female leaders are systematically better at managing the pandemic and that this divergence can be attributed to gender differences in management style and risk-taking behavior.
This policy paper explores whether countries distinguished by higher female representation in government policies, both in development and implementation, responded differently to the Covid-19 outbreak, and if so, how the response differed from other countries. For this purpose, we identify two layers of female representation: political representation and social representativeness. The layer of political representation considers the role of women’s representation in public policy design and implementation at the top level of executive and legislative institutions. Social representativeness captures women’s representativeness in different layers of society and spheres of life. It reflects social norms, legal inequality between men and women in different spheres of private, economic, and business life, as well as realized gender inequality, e.g., in labor market participation, education, or local leadership.
With respect to political representation, we address the question of whether countries distinguished by a higher female representation at top executive and legislative levels differ in terms of policy responses to Covid-19. With respect to social representativeness, we aim to capture the variation in these responses that may originate from differences in the expected reaction of the public, which in turn is driven by women’s representativeness in different layers of society. We derive evidence-based conclusions capturing the role of female leadership at the country’s executive and legislative level, as well as the role of gender representativeness in other layers and institutions of society.
The motivation for this research stems from the extensive literature on differences in values and social attitudes between men and women. For example, women have been shown to be more trustworthy, public-spirited, and likely to exhibit ‘helping’ behavior (Eagly and Crowley, 1986), vote based on social issues (Goertzel, 1983), score better on ‘integrity tests’ (Ones and Viswesvaran, 1998), take stronger stances on ethical behavior (Glover et al., 1997; Reiss and Mitra, 1998) and behave more generously when faced with economic decisions (Eckel and Grossman, 1998). Thereby, one may ask to which extent these differences transmit to public policies in societies where women are better represented, either politically or socially. While our study primarily concerns Covid-19 policy responses, we discuss other related literature on the relationship between women’s representativeness and public policy in the next section.
Our analysis shows that it is the women’s social representativeness layer, which can explain government reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. This goes in line with the institutionalist literature, suggesting that more a gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. With this finding, our study suggests further evidence on the central role of institutions. Consistent with the existing evidence, we claim that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down, but rather from the bottom-up (Easterly, 2008; Dixit, 2011; Greif, 2006). In such institutions, women’s participation in labor markets, businesses, and other spheres is essential as these are factors that distinguish countries in their response to the pandemic. While the evidence provided is suggestive, it opens further avenues for studies to assess causal relationships.
Covid-19 Policy Measurements
To conduct our analysis, we collect data from a number of different sources. For data on the Covid-19 situation and government policy responses, we use the Our World in Data portal. This online platform compiles a number of data sources, most of them updated on a daily basis. Statistics on female participation and leadership is retrieved from the World Bank and UNDP. Summary statistics of the variables are reported in Table A1 of the Appendix.
The policy response variables are based on a number of different measures implemented by national governments. These are aggregated into three composite indices: Stringency, Containment & health, and Economic support. (The index methodology can be found here.) We present the components of the three indices in Table 1 and a detailed description of the policy measures and their scoring in Appendix C.
As seen in Table 1, the Stringency and Containment & health indices have some common dimensions; containment & closure policies (C1 – C8) and public information campaign (H1). Both are rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest). The Economic support index records measures such as income support and debt/contract relief and does not share any common dimensions with the other two policy response indices. The scale of the index also ranges from 0 to 100 (100 = full support). The extent of heterogeneity in government policy responses across countries is illustrated in Figures 1 – 3. While containment and closure policies are stricter in many Asian and Latin American countries, economic support is more extensive in many European countries, Canada, New Zeeland, and few other countries.
Table 1. The structure of the Covid-19 policy measurements.
Figure 1. Stringency Index
Figure 2. Economic support index.
Figure 3. Containment & health index.
Female Representativeness: Layers and Indicators
Multiple studies in economics and political science suggest that the gender of public officials shapes policy outcomes (Chattopadhyay and Duflo, 2004; Iyer et al., 2012; Svaleryd, 2009). Evidence suggests that increasing the number of women in higher ranks of public administration (legislative bodies and ministries) has a substantial impact on the political office and policymaking (Borrelli, 2002; Davis, 1997; Reynolds, 1999). On the other hand, a number of studies demonstrate that gender has no association with policy outcomes (Besley et al., 2007; Besley and Case, 2003; Bagues and Campa, 2021). The role of the institutional setting and environment can, thus, be decisive in this regard. Women are also found to be more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Further, women are more likely to use a collective or consensual approach to problem and conflict resolution rather than an approach founded on unilateral imposition (Rosenthal, 2000; Gidengil, 1995).
In our study, the political representation layer is measured as female leadership at a country’s executive level (representation in government cabinets) and participation at the legislative institution (parliament) level. To assess this, we consider the following indicators: 1) the presence of a female president or prime minister and proportion of women in ministerial positions, and 2) women’s representativeness in legislative bodies measured as the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. The variation of these indicators across countries is illustrated in Figures B4 – B6 in the Appendix.
Our approach to social representativeness is in line with social role theory. This framework provides a theoretical explanation of a structural approach to gender differences (Eagly, 1987; Eagly and Karau, 2002; Wood and Eagly, 2009). It claims that men and women behave according to stereotypes associated with the social roles they occupy, and these differences can, in turn, influence the role of women in local governance and leadership. In line with other research on gender, the social role theory proposes a rigorous framework for analyzing the gendered aspect of government organizations. For instance, evidence shows that women tend to be more collaborative and democratic, hence demonstrating a more caring and community-oriented behavior (Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
The gender aspect of local governance indicates that the personal preferences and opinions of leaders predominate and shape policymaking (Besley and Coate, 1997). Female leaders (including municipality heads) are more inclined to favor the inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process (Fox and Schuhmann, 1999; Rodriguez-Garcia, 2015), implying that the society is a more informed and engaged stakeholder in the public policymaking (Ball, 2009). Given that municipalities are taking on a greater and more interactive role in citizens’ well-being, they become a key channel in reinforcing trust in government. Furthermore, the literature finds an interrelationship between female voters and government outcomes, whereby women’s enfranchisement affects government size and spending (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Miller, 2008, Aidt and Dallal, 2008). As such, this can lead to improvements in government outcomes and policy effectiveness. The evidence from Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Resilience Ranking suggests that success in containing Covid-19 while minimizing disruption appears to rely more on governments fostering a high degree of trust and societal compliance.
Furthermore, the patterns of gender relations in societies reflect formal and informal institutional rules and policies. Gender equality enhances good governance and helps to further improve relationships between government and citizens (OECD 2014). Similarly, Elson (1999) argues that labor markets are structured by practices, norms, and networks that are “bearers of gender”. Societies with better legal frameworks for women have more balanced gender participation in labor markets, governance, and leadership, along with more equal gender roles and less gender-biased stereotypes. We anticipate that better representation of women in policymaking in such societies is also reflected in the choice and effectiveness of Covid-19 policy measures.
Building on the above theories explaining the relevance of women’s representativeness in diverse societal layers for policy development and implementation, we identify three indices that have the potential to capture the effect of social representativeness – Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI), Gender Development Index (GDI) and Gender Inequality Index (GII). The WBLI is composed of eight indicators, covering different areas of the law related to the decisions women make at various stages of their career and life. These indicators include mobility, workplace, salary, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. Hyland et al. (2020) show that, globally, the largest gender inequalities are observed in the areas of pay and parenthood. That is, women are most disadvantaged by the legal system when it comes to compensation and how they are treated once they have children. The index scales from 0 to 100 (100 = equal opportunities). The diagram in Figure 4 illustrates how the components of the WBLI index measure key activities of economic agents throughout their life.
Figure 4. The linkages of 8 indicators in Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI)
The second index, the GDI, measures gender inequality in the achievements in three basic dimensions of human development: Health, measured by life expectancy at birth; Education, measured by expected years of schooling for children and mean years of schooling for adults aged above 25; and Command over economic resources, measured by estimated earned income. The same dimensions are included in the Human Development Index (HDI), and the GDI is defined as the female-to-male HDI ratio (i.e. perfect gender equality corresponds to a GDI equal to one).
Turning to the third index measuring social representativeness, the GII reflects gender-based disadvantages in the following dimensions—reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. The index measures the loss in potential human development due to gender inequality in achievements across these dimensions. It ranges from zero, where women and men fare equally, to one, where one gender fares as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions. One of the dimensions of the GII, women’s empowerment, has a sub-dimension – “Female and male shares of parliamentary seats”, one of our indicators measuring political representation. Generally, we do not consider the two layers being as mutually exclusive, but intersections are expected to be minimal.
Central to our study, the three indices capturing social representativeness in a country encompass the institutional quality of its society from a gender development perspective. The distribution of each index across countries is shown in Figures B1 – B3 (See Appendix B).
Women’s Representativeness and Covid-19 Policy Responses: Partial Correlation Analysis
In this section, we explore the relationship between Covid-19 policy responses and the measures of political representation and social representativeness. For this purpose, we explore (i) correlations between the indicators and indices of the political and social representation layers and (ii) partial correlations between these measures and policy response indices.
We start with a correlation analysis of the different indicators in the layers. It shows that the WBLI is in high correlation with other representativeness variables. This index captures the legal equality between women and men which has been shown to be “associated with a range of better outcomes for women, such as more entrepreneurship, better access to finance, more abundant female labor supply, and reductions in the gender wage gap”. (WB, 2021). One can think of the GDI and GII indices, as well as the political representativeness indicators, as reflections of a broad policy framework in diverse areas of social, business, and legal activities. A legal environment that promotes gender equality, even if not sufficient by itself, is likely to lead to progress in these areas. Indeed, Hyland et al. (2020) show that greater legal equality between men and women is associated with a lower gender gap in opportunities and outcomes, fewer female workers in vulnerable positions, and greater political representation of women. This way, the WBLI may capture key predispositions for women’s representativeness in society. Further, Hyland et al. (2021) show that the WBLI index is in high (partial) correlation with country GDP per capita, polity score, legal origin, religion and geographic characteristics. This evidence suggests that the WBLI may have the capacity to reflect important country characteristics which ultimately shape cross-country institutional variation.
Table 2. Scatterplot table for GDI, GII and Women, Business and the Law Index, Proportion of seats in parliament held by women and Proportion of ministerial seats held by women.
Next, we explore partial correlations of these indicators with Covid-19 policy responses (Table 3). In this analysis, we control for a number of factors that potentially confound the relationship between a particular policy response and representation layer. Specifically, we control for (i) the number of infected cases per million inhabitants, (ii) the number of deaths per million, (iii) GDP per capita, and (iv) life expectancy. The number of infected cases and deaths enter the model in order to control for country differences in the spread and consequences of the virus. GDP per capita captures the stage of country development, accounting for cross-country differences in resource capacities and constraints. Both of these control variables are claimed to have an important role in Covid-19 related research (Coscieme et al., 2020; Aldrich and Lotito, 2020; Elgar, Stefaniak and Wohl, 2020; Gibson, 2020; Conyon and Thomsen, 2020). Life expectancy is an important proxy for country inhabitants’ resilience against the virus, conditioned by health and health infrastructures.
Significant correlations are observed between the WBLI and the three policy response indices. The correlation between the WBLI and Stringency (and Containment & health) index is negative, implying that lighter restrictions have been imposed in countries with better business and legal conditions for women. A positive correlation is observed between the WBLI and the economic support index, suggesting that countries with better conditions for women in diverse business and societal areas have provided more extensive economic support in the pandemic. This finding is in line with existing evidence showing that women are more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Also, lighter restrictions and more generous economic support do not presume any trade-off in terms of the allocation of financial resources constrained by a state budget.
Interestingly, we do not observe significant correlations between policy responses and other indicators of women’s representativeness. The only exception is a correlation between GDI and the Containment & health index, which is significant at the 10% level and hinges heavily on two outliers (if we drop the two outliers, the P-value of the correlation increases from 0.0931 to 0.2735).
Table 3. Scatterplots of policy responses and social representativeness and political representation variables.
In our partial correlation analysis, we do not control for the direct effects of the gender dimension of social norms and practices. Social norms, practices, as well as informal and formal rules can, however, explain a substantial part of the gender gap (Hawkesworth, 2003; Mackay, 2009; Franceschet, 2011; Elson, 1999; Froehlich et al., 2020) relevant for making decisions. Our measures of women’s political and social representativeness do not fully cover gender differences in norms and practices. As Hyland et al. (2020) point out, de-jure female empowerment does not necessarily translate into de-facto empowerment, especially in countries with social norms and informal rules that result in low representation of women in diverse societal spheres. The authors indicate that laws are actionable in a short period, while more time is needed to bring changes in social norms. In our paper (Grigoryan and Khachatryan, 2021), we attempt to address this issue by incorporating the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) into the model and evaluating the confounding effect on the covariates of the model. We show that the WBLI captures the effect of the gender gap owing to social norms and practices on Covid-19 policy responses as measured by SIGI. This result suggests that the endogeneity arising from the omission of a measure of such a gender gap is likely to be minimal.
Discussion and Conclusions
Our correlation analysis suggests that it is the layer of women’s social representativeness that can explain the policy reactions of governments in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This result is in line with the institutionalist literature on gender inequality and social role theory, which suggests that a more gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. Among the three indices constituting the social representativeness layer, the WBLI is, by construction, more inclusive in terms of capturing women’s role in diversified societal areas. From Table 2, we observe that the WBLI is the only index that is in strong correlation with all other indicators. We also identify strong dominance of the WBLI in correlations with policy responses: it is the only indicator that is significantly correlated with all three policy response measurements (Table 3).
To conclude, our results establish an association between female social representativeness, as measured by the (legal) equality of opportunities between men and women, and Covid-19 related policies. One potential interpretation of these findings concerns the central role of the gender balance in different institutions and layers of society in understanding policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. While it was parliaments and governments that implemented policies, we find that the measures undertaken correlate more strongly with factors related to the social representativeness of women rather than those related to their political representation. This suggests a dominant role of gender-balanced institutions at the ‘grass root’ level in terms of the scale and scope of the crisis response. Naturally, these institutions may result (or be correlated) with more gender-balanced political representation, but the latter alone is not helpful in explaining the variation in the reaction to the pandemic. These results underline the importance of balanced gender representation in the labor market, business, and other spheres of social life. Further investment and development of ‘grass root’ institutions that improve women’s socioeconomic opportunities, could provide a fundamental foundation for policy development in a crisis situation.
There could also be alternative interpretations of our findings. There is rich evidence that the gender dimension is deeply implicated in institutions (Acker, 1992; Chappell and Waylen, 2013; Lovenduski, 2005). Gender norms and gender practices have been shown to have an influence on the operation and interaction between formal and informal institutions (see, for instance, Chappell, 2010; Krook and Mackay, 2011; Chappell and Waylen, 2013) and the gender dimension of political institutions is reflected in their practices and values, hence affecting their outcomes (such as laws and policies), formation, and implementation (for instance, Acker, 1992). In turn, governmental policies and rules shape societal norms and expectations. These considerations imply that our results could be driven by the overall values, culture, and institutions of respective societies. These factors would both result in a more gender-neutral legal environment and ‘grass-root’ institutions, and ultimately, distinguish countries in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this way, our results open an avenue for future studies in this important domain to better understand the causality of observed relationships.
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(The Appendix can be found in the PDF version of the brief)