Monday, November 30, 2020

COVID-19 and Women’s Economic Empowerment 1/3

 COVID-19 and Women’s Economic Empowerment The current COVID-19 crisis deeply impacts women, men, girls, boys and other genders differently. While men make up the majority of those who have died from the virus, women and girls bear the brunt of disproportionate care burdens, disruptions in income and education, poor access to health and other essential services, greater risk of being dispossessed of land and property, and gender digital and pay gaps. For women already living in poverty, these impacts can be a shock to their economic stability overall and impede their ability to purchase critical necessities, such as medicine and food. 
The COVID-19 crisis will have significant implications for U.S. investments in global women’s economic empowerment, including the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative, the Development Finance Corporation’s 2X Women’s initiative, and U.S. investment in the Women Entrepreneurs Financing Initiative (We-Fi). The gender and social norm manifestations of COVID-19 present an urgent need for governments, businesses, community leaders, and decisionmakers to act. 

Women’s employment in the health sector disproportionately exposes them to COVID-19. Women comprise about 70% of global health care workers and are front and center to exposure to COVID-19 and stigma within their communities for working near COVID patients. i Additionally, the gender pay gap in the global health workforce is 11%; lower pay means decreased ability to purchase necessary supplies or access care. ii The undervaluing of women’s work hurts women and healthcare systems, and under-investment holds systems back from preparedness in times of crisis.iii 

Unemployment and women’s overrepresentation in the informal sector heightens their vulnerabilities during crises. The International Labor Organization estimates that 195 million jobs could be eliminated globally due to the pandemic,iv with a majority in sectors predominated by women. v Furthermore, over 740 million women around the world work in the informal sector and as low-wage workers, vi employment that is vulnerable to elimination due to COVID-19 and which often lacks protections against exploitation and harassment. Migrant women working in non-essential service industries such as food service and hospitality and domestic workers in predominantly female-heavy sectors (e.g., housekeeping, childcare) are particularly vulnerable to being laid off or exploited for their labor during COVID-19. Furthermore, the 26% gender gap in labor force participationvii now seems to be widening further and the U.S. Department of Labor reported in April 2020 that women held 60% of the 700k jobs that have been eliminated in the U.S. so far due to COVID-19. 

Women and adolescent girls take on disproportionate care burdens with negative impacts on their economic empowerment. Due to social norms, women already perform 76.2% of the total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men.viii During public health crises such as COVID-19, care burdens dramatically increase to include caring for the sick, vulnerable elderly family members, and children who are home due to school closures. ix This not only exposes women and girls to contracting the virus from infected family members, but also reduces time spent on generating an income, operating a business, or other economic activity. 

The disproportionate impacts on women due to COVID-19 threatens the stability of food security in the developing world. Women comprise on average 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries and are estimated to account for two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers. x Limits to global food supply could require countries to focus on domestic production, which puts women at a greater economic disadvantage as their land rights are already less secure globally. Additionally, this will likely increase the risk of violence and exploitation by male sharecroppers and credit services in countries where social norms restrict women from harvesting the land they own. If field laborers are not able to travel to farms to assist in planting, weeding, and harvesting, this could lead to increased labor demands for women and girls, which compound already high household care burdens. In addition, many women sell agricultural products in local and informal markets; as markets close due to the COVID-19 crisis, women will experience further losses in income.

cweee_covid_and_wee_brief_final.pdf (

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