Photo/Illutration A woman provides advice on social media at a suicide prevention consultation service in October 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

From losing their jobs and struggling to find work to becoming victims of domestic violence and even taking their own lives, women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the novel coronavirus pandemic, research shows.

According to a Cabinet Office report released on April 28, the average number of female non-regular workers in 2020 dropped by 500,000 from the previous year.

The average number of male non-regular workers in 2020, though, was only 260,000 less than the year before.

The Cabinet Office had set up a research group to study how women are being affected by the pandemic and what challenges they face.

The report presents eye-popping statistics that reveal how existing societal problems that unequally affect women have become much more severe amid the ongoing health crisis.

Sawako Shirahase, a sociology professor at the University of Tokyo who chaired the research group, said at a news conference that the results reflect how serious the gender inequality gap is in Japan.

She urged the government to establish new policies that adopt gender perspectives.

“It is not that the measures are needed because of the pandemic,” she said. “There is no way (for women) to survive if the gap widens even further.”

Her group interviewed civil support organizations and analyzed statistical data to examine the issue across four categories: employment and the economy, violence against women, health, and unpaid work such as housework and raising children.

The report said the nearly two-fold gap between men and women emerged in the non-regular workers' job loss figures because the restaurant, hospitality and service industries--all of which have a high ratio of female workers--are being hit particularly hard in the pandemic.

The report's analysis of central government data shows women with children who are elementary school age or younger had struggled harder to find work than other women when schools were shut down due to the pandemic around April 2020.

The unemployment rate for single mothers significantly rose in the period from July to September last year, the group also found.

It said the underlying reason is that Japan’s social structure lacks gender equality.

The group said it is necessary to change the perception that “men are the breadwinners” and “what women earn is an assist to household finances.”

The country’s social security and tax systems were designed based on that idea, the group said.

It cited a study that showed female non-regular workers in dual-income households earn 20 percent of the household income while female regular workers earn 40 percent.

The group said it is vital for women to be financially independent amid grim statistics on suicide and abuse.

The number of men who committed suicide in 2020 was about 14,000, which was 23 fewer than the previous year.

By comparison, 7,000 women killed themselves in 2020, 935 more than the previous year.

The number of housewives, pensioners and high school students who committed suicide increased, the group said.

The report mentioned instances where women have hesitated to escape from their partners in domestic abuse cases because they rely on the abusers’ income.

The number of consultations on domestic violence from April 2020 to February this year was more than 170,000, 1.5 times more than the same time the previous year.

The number of consultations a support center for victims of sexual crime and sexual violence received between April and September of 2020 increased 1.2 times from the previous year.