Any crisis has disproportionate impacts based on the region and the affected population. COVID 19 has been no exception, which is why we’re focusing this month on the unique ways that women have to adapt and pivot through crises in a unique way.
Why Do Women Face Such Major Challenges from Crises?
A crisis, by its very nature, has ripple affects that often won’t be known until years after the crisis is over. There are both short-term impacts, such as environmental damage from forest fires or job losses in the early months of the COVID 19 pandemic. But even once things “bounce back” from that point, the far-reaching affects are compounded by some of the general issues facing women as it relates to economic inequality.
Here are some of the reasons why any crisis, particularly a prolonged one, sets women back:
- Women often have less in savings
- Women earn less more generally
- Women carry most of the burden for unpaid household work
- Women have reduced access to social protections
- More women work in the informal economy
- Women are the majority of single-parent head of households
There have been dozens of articles on the immediate effect of COVID 19 in countries and economies of all sizes and types. The most specific issue affecting women will be one associated with gender poverty; for the past 20 years, extreme poverty around the world was declining. With worldwide shutdowns, layoffs, and entire industries with high numbers of women shrinking due to the pandemic, however, gender poverty is back in a big way.
In 2021, more than 96 million people would be pushed into extreme poverty according to data. Of those, 47 million of them will be women and girls. Women who work for themselves, too, have struggled with the shifts required by COVID 19, with 25 percent of self-employed women in Europe and Central Asia completely unemployed.
Women tend to be overrepresented in the industries where most job losses have happened and will continue to happen because of the pandemic. Food service, hospitality, retail, and entertainment have high numbers of women working in them generally, but these industries have all faced significant issues due to declining ability to operate as normal.
One area in which women have been affected more so than any other industry is in domestic care. When it comes to domestic workers, over 72 percent of them have lost their jobs over the last year and a half. With so many working in these roles in the informal economy, job protections like unemployment or severance pay just don’t exist in that space, meaning these workers were completely exposed to long-term financial impacts the moment they were let go.
While many office workers transitioned to remote positions relatively easily, that isn’t the case for domestic workers who could be viewed both as a virus exposure risk working in multiple homes and as an extra expense that just isn’t needed when there’s so much uncertainty about the economy.
It’s not about jobs either; many of the most important factors that allow for women to learn and thrive start much earlier than working years. With additional help needed at home either to do domestic work or to take on paid roles, girls are leaving school at record rates, especially in underdeveloped countries. It’s expected that another 11 million school-age girls will leave education and many of them are unlikely to come back, which will influence their ability to earn a living wage for decades to come.
And gender-based violence is more likely to happen when families are under pressure and under the same roof coping with that stress, meaning that experts expect numbers of female victims to rise in the next few years, too.
Supporting women-owned businesses, lending help to networks of women in high-risk industries like domestic care, and offering employment opportunities to women during these challenging times are just a few ways all of us can help minimize these negative factors.