The pandemic in Croatia had very important negative effects, both on the economic level, where it caused one of the biggest GDP contractions in Europe, and on the social level. Complicating the situation further, during the two major waves of the virus, were the earthquakes of April 2020 and December 2020. However, the pandemic had different effects on men and women, exacerbating issues already present. There were mainly three aspects that were exacerbated regarding gender inequality due to Covid-19: gender segregation, the increasing importance of family and home care services, and finally, gender-based violence.
In the country, reports of gender-based violence increased by 43 % compared to the previous year. The numbers could even be higher, especially considering the difficulty in accessing the few safe houses available (six counties do not have any and budgets are getting smaller). Livija Plancic, head of the Bijeli Krug nongovernmental organization, affirmed that the situation has been aggravated by exogenous factors, such as alcohol and drugs, and by the financial situation put to the test by the pandemic (Total Croatia News, 2020).
Secondly, in the country horizontal segregation (i.e. the concentration of a sexual gender in a given sector both at school and professional level) is very strong. Women represent 95% of residential care workers, 91% of social workers, and are 78% of health workers (Eurostat, 2019a). This has led to many more women (60%) than men (44%) losing their jobs due to the bankruptcy of their businesses (Eurostat, 2019a). In addition, many women found themselves without an adequate social support system when the pandemic began. They lack unemployment insurance, pension contributions, and health insurance. The main reason for this is that women have most of the roles that are not covered by the social protection system, such as domestic work, helping in the family business or working in the fields. This has meant that they were not even included in the social and financial stimuli put in place by the Croatian government to support citizens during the crisis (World Bank, 2021). Furthermore, according to a study done by the World Bank on the effects of the pandemic on the country, it was found that mental health was put to the test in 2020, as they were responsible for raising their children, keeping the house in order and contributing to the family finances, and strong feelings of failure were recorded in all areas.
Finally, with regard to work-family balance, the pandemic in Croatia has further exacerbated differences in care burden. Gender stereotypes of women as “caretakers” and men as “breadwinners” resulted in twice as many women deciding to leave their employment to care for their families, especially after schools closed due to restrictions on Covid-19.
Overall, they found themselves having almost the entire burden of home and family care on their shoulders. This led them to have less time to devote to their profession, making them more likely to quit or reduce their work hours, especially for those tasks that are impossible to do remotely. During the lockdown caused by the pandemic, approximately 76% of women were the major or sole responsibility for household chores and family care (World Bank, 2020). This was primarily caused by the closure of schools and the removal of all caregivers (grandparents, babysitters, etc…).
The institutional response to gender issues related to the crisis from Covid-19 was not sufficient, as it focused on purely economic issues. The government’s major focuses have been primarily twofold: securing jobs and earnings and providing sufficient liquidity to failing businesses. The resulting lack of social policies has meant that the most fragile classes in society have been sidelined in order to focus their efforts on formal workers. Among the most vulnerable social groups are also women, who represent 55% of the population at risk of poverty (Eurostat, 2019b).
Edited by Costanza Marino