COVID-19 could drive millions of women into poverty, when they are agents of recovery

by 04th May 2020
COVID-19 could drive millions of women into poverty, when they are agents of recovery

COVID-19 has become an unprecedented global crisis, affecting everyone - but not equally so. CARE International UK’s new study on COVID-19 and women’s economic justice and rights shows that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the economic effects of global pandemics, especially those in the poorest and most marginalised communities. Women working in garment factories have already lost their jobs, often their households’ only income, while the pandemic is exacerbating other families’ food insecurity. For those living in areas of conflict, COVID-19 is exacerbating an already terrible situation.

This video shows the economic impact of COVID-19 on women from some of CARE’s programmes. 

Like an earthquake exposing a fault line, as the pandemic plays out it is exposing deep structural inequalities. Women make up over 70% of the global health workforce and therefore are more exposed to an infection risk. They are more likely to work in informal, low-paid jobs or small-holder agricultural jobs - the very jobs that are most prone to disruption during public health emergencies, and which frequently lack legal and social protections. Women’s economic opportunities are being diminished – over increased unpaid care work, decreasing incomes and reduced access to financial services like loans and savings – without which it will be much harder for women entrepreneurs to rebuild their livelihoods. Together with the gender norms that restrict women’s and girls’ roles in society, it is clear that COVID-19 could cost and ruin lives and livelihoods.

Despite this, the COVID-19 crisis also offers a unique opportunity, to rebuild systems and societies in a more inclusive way that helps communities around the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality goals. Prioritising women and economic recovery along more equitable lines is not just morally right, it is also economically practical. Women have long been seen as critical agents of post crisis recovery, and investing in gender equality has the potential to stimulate the economy and reverse losses to global wealth by up to $160 trillion.

The pandemic also offers policymakers the opportunity to devise more equitable socioeconomic strategies that will benefit marginalised people around the world and drive a new model for economic growth. This kind of a recovery presents a chance to: ensure crucial jobs such as care work are well paid and offer social protection; global wealth is distributed equitably; and dignified work, public service provision and social protection is available to everyone, including the poorest and most marginalised women and girls. But this requires action now including a rigorous focus on gender within the economic response and recovery. If this chance is missed, COVID-19’s repercussions could reinforce existing inequalities and imperil decades of progress made on women’s economic empowerment

The answer is clear: The economic and financial response and recovery needs to provide women with equal opportunities and an equal voice. Drawing on lessons learned from past public health emergencies and CARE’s decades of experience working with women to advance their access to financial and economic resources and opportunities, we ask decision makers to:

1. analyse and track the impact of and response to COVID-19 on gender, including gathering evidence from data that is disaggregated by gender, age, and other inequalities;

2. prioritise women and girls as agents of recovery, from short-term relief to longer-term economic recovery strategies and funding;

3. ensure women’s voice, co-leadership, and balanced representation in decision-making bodies and processes, and engage with women’s rights organisations, community groups, and civil society.

If national governments, international organisations, and the private sector prioritise gender equality as a life-saving aim in its own right in the response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, they will set the groundwork for continued social progress in the coming years.

Mareen Buschmann

My main focus is on women’s economic justice and rights.

I've worked on development financing, tackling poverty and inequalities for more than 10 years. I've engaged with decision makers in the UK and Germany, the UN, EU, World Bank, and around the world.

I previously worked with Save the Children UK, Bond, the ONE Campaign and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Twitter: @mareenbuschmann