COVID-19 will widen poverty gap between women and men
by UNDP, UN Women, WEIGO
The COVID-19 crisis will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women who live in poverty, according to new data released by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The poverty rate for women was expected to decrease by 2.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021, but projections now point to an increase of 9.1 per cent due to the pandemic and its fallout.
The projections, commissioned by UN Women and UNDP, and carried out by the Pardee Centre for International Futures at the University of Denver, show that while the pandemic will impact global poverty generally, women will be disproportionately affected, especially women of reproductive age.
By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on 1.90 USD a day or less), there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.
“The increases in women’s extreme poverty, in particular at these two stages of their lives, are a stark indictment of deep flaws in the ways we have constructed our societies and economies,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“We know that women take most of the responsibility for caring for the family; they earn less, save less and hold much less secure jobs – in fact, overall, women’s employment is 19% more at risk than men’s. The evidence we have here of multiple inequalities is critical to drive swift, restorative policy action that puts women at the heart of pandemic recovery,“ said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
The data, summarized in a UN Women report From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19, also show that the pandemic will push at least 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. This will increase the total number of women and girls living in extreme poverty to 435 million, with projections showing that this number will not revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.
The pandemic has posed a serious threat to the prospects of eradicating extreme poverty by the end of this decade. And the reality might be even grimmer as these projections of increased poverty rates for women and girls only account for the downward revision of the gross domestic product (GDP), excluding other factors - such as women leaving the workforce due to childcare responsibilities - that may also affect the sex distribution of poverty.
“More than 100 million women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
“Women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis as they are more likely to lose their source of income and less likely to be covered by social protection measures. Investing in reducing gender inequality is not only smart and affordable, but also an urgent choice that governments can make to reverse the impact of the pandemic on poverty reduction,” he added.
The fallout of the pandemic will shift forecasts of extreme poverty across regions. With 59 per cent of the world’s poor women currently living in sub-Saharan Africa, the region will continue to host the highest number of the world’s extreme poor.
Yet, after making significant gains in poverty reduction in the past few years, South Asia is projected to experience a resurgence in extreme poverty. By 2030, for every 100 men aged 25–34 living in poverty in Southern Asia there will be 129 poor women, an increase from 118 in 2021.
While these figures are alarming, the study estimates it would take just 0.14 per cent of global GDP (USD 2 trillion) to lift the world out of extreme poverty by 2030; and US$48 billion to close the gender poverty gap. However, the real number could end up being much higher, especially if governments fail to act – or act too late.
The unabated rise of other pre-existing gender inequalities will also impact these figures. Women are employed in some of the most affected sectors, like accommodation, food services, and domestic work. They have been particularly vulnerable to layoffs and loss of livelihood.
According to International Labour Organization (ILO), by June 2020, it is estimated that 72 per cent of domestic workers globally had lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19. Women and men are both taking on more household chores and care for children and family members during lockdowns, but the majority of work still falls on the shoulders of women and girls.
Backtracking on progress is not inevitable. Recommendations to prevent women from falling behind permanently because of the pandemic range from addressing occupational segregation, gender pay gaps and inadequate access to affordable childcare to introducing economic support packages for vulnerable women to countries increasing social protection measures targeting women and girls and expanding research and data availability on the gendered impacts of COVID-19.
COVID-19 and the world’s 800 million women working in the Informal Economy. (WIEGO)
Informal economy workers’ organizations across the global economy call on governments at all levels to partner with us on relief, recovery and resilience efforts that are emerging from the grassroots during this time of unprecedented crisis.
Informal Economy Workers Are — and Have Always Been — Essential Workers
Street vendors and market traders are a crucial link to food security and basic necessities, especially for the poorest segments of society. Waste pickers / recyclers provide sanitation and solid waste services that contribute to public health, lower landfill costs and a healthier environment.
Domestic workers are on the frontlines of meeting hygiene standards and providing care, including for the sick and elderly. Home-based workers keep supply chains running and are sewing masks and medical coveralls for the frontline workers. Economies everywhere depend on our work.
Lockdowns and other restrictions to contain COVID-19 are negatively impacting 81% of the world’s 3.3 billion workers, according to the International Labour Organization. Fully 61% of that global workforce — some two billion workers — are informally employed. In developing countries we make up 90% of total employment.
Public health measures restricting movement have prevented many of our members from working at all. Every day they are unable to work, they are unable to earn. They cannot stay at home without starving and they cannot work without being exposed to the virus. Relief efforts in many countries are not reaching our workers. Brutal evictions and domestic violence against women are pervasive.
Our study of the early impact of the crisis shows the pathways through which earnings in our sectors have been affected. Workers in the informal economy who have long lacked social protection and access to health care are suffering the harshest consequences.
Societies need informal economy workers’ organizations to help design more effective public policies in response to the crisis, and in view of longer-term recovery and structural reform.
The COVID-19 crisis has drawn the world’s attention to longstanding inequalities in the way governments and industry deal with the world’s massive informal workforce.
The International Domestic Workers Federation, StreetNet International, HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet Southeast Asia, HomeNet Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers — as members of the WIEGO Network — urge policymakers to implement the following principles in all their emergency relief and recovery actions, and in their strategies to manage public health and economic activity:
We, the global movement of workers in the informal economy, have decades of experience with organizing and facilitating connections between workers, communities, governments and companies. Our leaders are experienced negotiators and peer educators, know the inner workings of their respective sectors, and are working tirelessly to address the acute crisis facing our grassroots members and to maintain social cohesion in crisis contexts.
Including us in decision-making will benefit not just the 61% of the world’s workers who are informally employed, but local communities, national economies and the global systems that connect us all.
Policies and practices during and after the COVID-19 crisis must recognize informal economy workers and their organizations, and issue clear directives to enforcement agents to refrain from harassment, violence, bribery, forced evictions, and demolition of workers’ assets, including their homes and workplaces. Special attention needs to be paid to risks and costs borne by women workers in the current context and in the long term.
There is a need for a new model of work and production, equitable and redistributive, that recognizes and values all forms of work. The transformation required to achieve that model must begin now, with a commitment to recovery plans that focus on transitions from the informal to the formal economy in line with the rights-based ILO Recommendation 204.
Long-term investments are needed to rebuild economies around the understanding that informal economy workers, especially women, sustain households, communities, and economies; are central to the rebuilding of local value chains; and require a guarantee of decent work standards in all sectors. http://www.wiego.org/COVID19-Platform
* Women in Informal Employment (WEIGO) COVID Crisis updates: http://bit.ly/3kkH1O4
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Put gender equality at the heart of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery
by Valeria Esquivel
ILO Senior Employment Policies & Gender Officer
The pandemic is disproportionately affecting women workers. Governments should prioritize policies that offset the effects the COVID-19 crisis is having on their jobs.
I am a feminist economist. My job is to examine how the inequalities between women and men are part and parcel of the functioning of labour markets, and to assist our constituents in implementing what we call “gender-responsive” employment policies – policies that explicitly contribute to gender equality.
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis large numbers of women were excluded from the labour market. The pandemic has made things much worse.
It is disproportionately affecting women workers who are losing their jobs at a greater speed than men. More women than men work in sectors that have been hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic, such as tourism, hospitality and the garment sector. Large numbers of domestic workers, most of whom are women, are also at risk of losing their jobs. The vast majority of health workers are women, which raises the risk of them catching the virus.
Moreover, the fragility of their employment situation, coupled with reduced access to labour and social protection have meant that women have found they are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, even in sectors which, until now, have experienced less disruption.
One of the ideas at the core of feminist economics is that the unpaid care work that takes place in households and families to support everyday life is a vital part of the economic system.
This type of work is primarily carried out by women and most of the time is not recognized as such. School closures and caring for those who become sick, has forced women lucky enough to remain in employment to cut down on paid working hours or to extend total working hours (paid and unpaid) to unsustainable levels.
Here are five ways to ensure that women’s job prospects are not damaged long-term by the COVID-19 crisis:
Prevent women from losing their jobs by implementing policies that keep them in work, as women have a harder time than men in getting back to paid work once crises have past. By compensating for wage losses caused by the temporary reduction in working hours or the suspension of work, these policies can help maintain women workers in their jobs, and safeguard their skills.
Help women find new jobs if they’ve lost them: Public Employment Services (PES), that connect jobseekers with employers, can help women find jobs in essential production and services. At the local level, they can speed up job placement in sectors that are recruiting amidst the pandemic.
Avoid cutting subsidies: Expenditure cuts in public services have a disproportionate effect on women and children. That’s why it’s so important to avoid cuts in health and education budgets, wages and pensions. Past crises have shown that when support for employment and social protection are at the core of stimulus packages, they help stabilize household incomes and lead to a speedier recovery.
Invest in care: Care services have the potential to generate decent jobs, particularly for women. This crisis has highlighted the often difficult and undervalued work of care workers, whose contribution has been, and remains, essential to overcoming the pandemic. Improving their working conditions will have a significant impact on many women workers, given the large numbers who work in the care sector.
Promote employment policies that focus on women: Governments need to pro-actively counterbalance the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women. From a broader perspective, macroeconomic stimulus packages must continue to support and create jobs for women. Policies should focus on hard-hit sectors that employ large numbers of women, along with measures that help close women’s skill gaps and contribute to removing practical barriers to entry.
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