On 8 March, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) celebrates International Women’s Day through interviews with women that play a central role in our global quest to deliver excellence in social security. The focus of the interviews is on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality and social security, in line with UN Women’s theme for International Women’s Day 2021, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”
Entrevista con María del Carmen Armesto González-Rosón
National Social Security Institute (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social – INSS)
How do you see the state of gender equality in social security today?
Gender equality is a fundamental right, and an essential one if societies around the world are to progress. Equality of treatment and opportunity between women and men is a core right enjoyed by workers in our country. Social security is a true reflection of this equality, as demonstrated by the creation of new benefits such as the infant care co-responsibility allowance, equality in the duration of birth and childcare benefits for both parents, and the new supplement aimed at closing the gender pay gap. In the specific case of the measure bringing about parity between parents when it comes to the duration of maternity and paternity leave, this not only affects the level of benefits provided, but also supports women’s equal integration in the labour market by ensuring that women are not penalized for taking this leave.
What has been the specific impact of COVID-19 on the social and economic situation of women?
Women work on the frontline as carers and health-care professionals; most domestic workers are female; women represent the majority of those employed in senior care and childcare; and they play a predominant role in the service sector, which has been hit hard by COVID-19. For all these reasons, together with the fact that their jobs tend to be more precarious, women are coming off worse in the labour market. They are suffering from higher redundancy rates, particularly in the domestic sector, which leads to greater social vulnerability among these workers.
Most cases of COVID-related temporary incapacity leave involve women, primarily those in the 36-to-45 age bracket. This demonstrates this group’s greater exposure to COVID-19 infection, resulting in a need to take sick leave or to self-isolate, a reality that takes on special significance when we consider that fewer women are covered by the social security system than men.
Have social security measures put in place during COVID-19 been able to reduce the pandemic’s negative impact on women?
A number of different measures have been implemented to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 across the various sectors, and an attempt made to tailor them to the specific characteristics and requirements of each sector. Examples are the special allowance for loss of earnings for those covered under the special system for domestic workers, the majority of which are women.
As far as the measures managed by the INSS are concerned, as previously mentioned, women have taken more leaves of absence for COVID-19 than men due to their greater exposure in their jobs. The higher level of protection being offered to them is the same as if they had suffered an accident at work, equivalent to 75 per cent of their regulatory base, and this from the day after they were infected with or put in isolation as a result of COVID-19.
Furthermore, Spain’s recently approved ‘minimum living income’ is designed to protect low-income households, many of whom have found themselves in an even more precarious position as a direct result of the pandemic. Women are more often than not the recipients of this benefit.
Applying for social security benefits has also been simplified during the pandemic, with fewer documents required to gain access since some of these were proving very difficult to get hold of. Given that more women than men have found themselves needing to claim benefits, on the whole they have benefitted more from these changes.
What is your message to women on this day?
The INSS is firmly committed to gender equality and to improving working conditions for women, supporting personal, family and workplace co-responsibility through our day-to-day practices. I would therefore like to shine a spotlight on all the women in the institutions, each working in her own area of responsibility, who fight tirelessly to make our society ever-more developed, sustainable and just for women.