Survey shows COVID-19 impacts on gender inequality in Albania

Date: Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Daniela Fejzaj, a 40-year-old information technology professional, works from home due to COVID-19 with increased household and family responsibilities. Photo: Private archive
Daniela Fejzaj, a 40-year-old information technology professional, works from home due to COVID-19 with increased household and family responsibilities. Photo: Private archive

“The days got longer; they never ended”, recalls Daniela Fejzaj, a 40-year-old information technology professional and mother of two, remembering the endless chores during the COVID-19 lockdown in Albania. She and her husband worked from home for more than two months, but she carried the burden of unpaid labour, spending around nine hours per day.  

“It was difficult because I wasn’t just teleworking from home; I had to cook and clean. I don’t know why we are so ‘attracted’ by these chores and other family members don’t like to get involved,” she says. Helping her children with online schooling, as they adapted to e-mails and Zoom lessons, was her top priority, while her job kept her busy past midnight. “It was impossible to stick to the official work schedule; I was on-and-off throughout the day, working until 1 or 2 in the morning,” says Fejzaj.  

According to a UN Women Rapid Gender Assessment survey measuring the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic on women and men in Albania, 76 per cent of women and 66 per cent of men in the country reported spending more time on unpaid domestic work during the lockdown period. The survey also revealed that the burden of household and care responsibilities were not distributed evenly, as only 46 per cent of women versus 67 per cent of men in Albania reported receiving help from their partner.

“Living in large families with different generations, in poor housing conditions, with low economic incomes and in challenging family relations and gender roles, and working from home in more than 70 per cent of the cases has increased the burden on women to simultaneously provide unpaid family care,” says Fabiola Laço Egro, Executive Director of the Today for the Future Community Development Center in Tirana.

Laço Egro highlights that social care and protection action plans should consider women’s role in the family, as well as their employment and exit from informality. “Flexible working hours and economic and easing incentives should also be considered.”

As a result of the outbreak, half of employed women (51 per cent) have been working remotely in Albania, compared to a quarter of men (27 per cent). Some 28 per cent of women working remotely were employed in less female-dominated sectors, such as finance, accounting or information technology.

“My husband and I both work in IT and our profession was an advantage,” says Fejzaj. “We could complete all our tasks online and our incomes were the same. I thought about it every day because my family members got impacted. Having less incomes in this situation is very stressful.”  

According to Ala Negruta, Gender Statistics Specialist for the UN Women Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, moving towards working-from-home arrangements as a permanent strategy to maximize choices in some sectors could open new opportunities for women and men to enhance work-life balance.

The survey in Albania also revealed that women’s psychological and mental health was more affected than men’s (69 vs. 57 per cent). The gap was widest among employed women aged 35–44, who experienced greater psychological distress compared to men of the same age (72 versus 58 per cent).

The effects of COVID-19 were grim for Jeta Luku, a mother of two who lost her job after the bakery where she worked went bankrupt. Her husband works occasionally as a plumber.

“I am trying hard to find a new job but in this situation, when every business is facing challenges, it is very hard. I can start working as a cleaner in private homes but then both my husband and I would be out of the social insurance scheme,” says Luku.

The Today for the Future Community Development Center distributed food packages to Luku’s family, with support from UN Women.

The Rapid Gender Assessment in Albania revealed that almost 15 per cent of respondents lost their jobs. Men appeared to face a greater risk of unemployment (17 per cent) compared to women (12 per cent), partly due to the large proportion of men employed in the sectors most heavily affected by the lockdown.

“We do not know what happened to women working in informal employment who are even more vulnerable in pandemic situations,” cautions UN Women Representative Michele Ribotta. “Women make up a large number of informal workers, or work in fragile working conditions (tailors, hairdressers etc.) who have lost their jobs or have seen significantly reduced incomes. But these women are not included in the official data as a result of informality.” 

At the same time, 33 per cent of Albanian survey respondents saw a decrease in their paid working hours. Self-employed respondents were the most affected, with nearly half seeing their working hours cut due to the closure of non-essential businesses. Meanwhile, almost half (46 per cent) of self-employed women living with children reported reducing their working hours to look after children and do housework.

The Rapid Gender Assessment findings are intended to be used by countries/territories to inform, guide and support response planning and address the gendered impacts of the pandemic. The survey in Albania was conducted from April 17–26, with support from two UN Joint Programmes – “Ending Violence against Women in Albania,” financed by the Swedish Government, and “Improving municipal social protection service delivery,” financed by the Joint SDG Fund.