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Impact of Covid-19 on Women

The year 2020, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, was intended to be ground-break-ing for gender equality. Instead, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.

Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex:-

Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.

While early reports reveal more men are dying as a result of COVID-19, the health of women generally is adversely impacted through the reallocation of resources and priorities, including sexual and reproductive health services.

Unpaid care work has increased, with children out-of-school, heightened care needs of older people and overwhelmed health services.

As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, gender-based violence is increasing exponentially. Many women are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at the same time that services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible.

All of these impacts are further amplified in contexts of fragility, conflict, and emergencies where social cohesion is already undermined and institutional capacity and services are limited.

1. Economic Impact

The impact of COVID-19 across the global economy will be profound. Already, as described in greater detail in the policy brief ‘Shared responsibility, Global Solidarity on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, markets and supply chains have been disrupted, businesses are required to close or scale back operations, and millions have or will lose their jobs and livelihoods. Reports have estimated that full or partial lockdown measures now affect almost 2.7 billion workers, represent-ing around 81% of the world’s workforce, while the IMF projects a significant contraction of global output in 2020. COVID-19 is lurching the world economy towards a global recession, which will be strikingly different from past recessions.

Emerging evidence on the impact of COVID-19 suggests that women’s economic and productive lives will be affected disproportionately and differently from men. Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.

As women take on greater care demands at home, their jobs will also be disproportionately affected by cuts and lay-offs. Such impacts risk rolling back the already fragile gains made in female labor force participation, limiting women’s ability to support themselves and their families, especially for female-headed households. In many countries, the first round of layoffs has been particularly acute in the services sector, including retail, hospitality and tourism, where women are overrepresented.

The situation is worse in developing economies where the vast majority of women’s employment — 70 per cent — is in the informal economy with few protections against dismissal or for paid sick leave and limited access to social protection. To earn a living these workers often depend on public space and social interactions, which are now being restricted to contain the spread of the pandemic.

2. Health Impact

Health pandemics can make it more difficult for women and girls to receive treatment and health services. This is compounded by multiple or intersecting inequalities, such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, age, race, geographic location and sexual orientation, among others which influences access and decision-making to critical health services and information about COVID-19. Women and girls have unique health needs, but they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines, maternal and reproductive health care, or insurance coverage for routine and catastrophic health costs, especially in rural and marginalized communities. Restrictive social norms and gender stereotypes can also limit women’s ability to access health services. All of this has particular impacts during a widespread health crisis.

Women may be at risk or exposure due to the occupational sex-segregation: Globally, women make up 70 percent of the health workforce and are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers. They are also the majority of health facility service-staff — such as cleaners, laundry, catering — and as such they are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

The provision of sexual and reproductive health services, including maternal health care and gender-based violence related services, are central to health, rights and well-being of women and girls. The diversion of attention and critical resources away from these provisions may result in exacerbated maternal mortality and morbidity, increased rates of adolescent pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

3. Unpaid Care Work

The COVID-19 global crisis has made starkly visible the fact that the world’s formal economies and the maintenance of our daily lives are built on the invisible and unpaid labor of women and girls. With children out of school, intensified care needs of older persons and ill family members, and overwhelmed health services, demands for care work in a COVID-19 world have intensified exponentially. The unpaid care economy is a critical mainstay of the COVID-19 response: There are gross imbalances in the gender distribution of unpaid care work. Before COVID-19 became a universal pandemic, women were doing three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. This unseen economy has real impacts on the formal economy, and women’s lives. In Latin America the value of unpaid work is estimated to represent between 15,2 percent (Ecuador) and 25,3 percent (Costa Rica) of GDP. In the context of the pandemic, the increased demand for care work is deepening already existing inequalities in the gender division of labor. The less visible parts of the care economy are coming under increasing strain but remain unaccounted for in the economic response.

It is recommended that national measures to reduce the above impacts could include -

Put cash in women’s hands — if a country has an existing program in place that can directly place money in the hands of women, such as conditional cash transfer programs using mobile banking, those programs should be expanded.

Introduce measures that can either be implemented with low transaction costs (such as temporarily eliminating electricity bills for poor consumers).

Use pre-existing national social protection programs and adapt targeting methodologies to ensure income for groups affected by COVID-19 and especially where women are heavily represented (tourism, teaching, retail, restaurants, hospitality, etc).

Extend basic social protection to informal workers.

Introduce measures to alleviate the tax burden on women owned businesses.

Use women’s networks and civil society organisations, including microfinance and savings groups, to communicate on benefits.

Health care response must facilitate the development and dissemination of targeted messaging on public health to the different contexts and concerns of women and girls.

Special attention needs to be given to the health, psychosocial needs and work environment of frontline female health workers, including midwives, nurses, community health workers, as well as facility support staff. Personal Protective Equipment should be the appropriate size for women.

Particular attention needs to be paid to health care services for older women, gender-based violence survivors, as well as antenatal, postnatal care and delivery services, including emergency obstetric and newborn care.

Ensure continuity of care for older persons, persons with disabilities and those who recover from COVID-19

Exempting unpaid family caregivers from lockdown restrictions and providing them with the support and equipment necessary to do their jobs safely.

Preparing unpaid caregivers and community health workers with information, training, adequate equipment and livelihood support to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic effectively.

Expand and provide inclusive social protection for caregivers to mitigate the effects of the overload of unpaid care work by expanding access to paid family leave and paid sick leave and introducing paid reductions in working time / work-sharing for workers with care responsibilities.

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Adil Zafar

Adil Zafar

A marketing consultant trying to write on subjects ranging from persona; finance to child psychology. As founder of Marketing Realm, I help businesses grow.

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