Covid-19 is widening the gender gap

Women and children in the informal economy are particularly vulnerable to exploitation
Women and children in the informal economy are particularly vulnerable to exploitation

By Kristalina Georgieva, Stefania Fabrizio, Cheng Hoon Lim, & Marina M. Tavares

Published: Thu 23 Jul 2020, 11:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 23 Jul 2020, 1:05 PM

The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to roll back gains in women's economic opportunities, widening gender gaps that persist despite 30 years of progress.
Well-designed policies to foster recovery can mitigate the negative effects of the crisis on women and prevent further setbacks for gender equality. What is good for women is ultimately good for addressing income inequality, economic growth, and resilience.
Why has Covid-19 had disproportionate effects on women and their economic status? There are several reasons.
First, women are more likely than men to work in social sectors - such as services industries, retail, tourism, and hospitality - that require face-to-face interactions. These sectors are hit hardest by social distancing and mitigation measures.
Because of the nature of their jobs, teleworking is not an option for many women. In the United States, about 54 per cent of women working in social sectors cannot telework. In Brazil, it is 67 per cent. In low-income countries, at most only about 12 per cent of the population is able to work remotely.
Second, women are more likely than men to be employed in the informal sector in low-income countries. Informal employment - often compensated in cash with no official oversight - leaves women with lower pay, no protection of labour laws, and no benefits such as pensions or health insurance.
The livelihoods of informal workers have been greatly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. In Colombia, women's poverty has increased by 3.3 per cent because of the shutdown in economic activities. The UN estimates that the pandemic will increase the number of people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean by 15.9 million, bringing the total number of people living in poverty to 214 million, many of them women and girls.
Third, women tend to do more unpaid household work than men, about 2.7 hours per day more to be exact. They bear the brunt of family care responsibilities resulting from shutdown measures such as school closures and precautions for vulnerable elderly parents. After shutdown measures have been lifted, women are slower to return to full employment.
Furthermore, among parents with at least one child under the age of 6, men were roughly three times more likely to have returned to work than women.
Fourth, pandemics put women at greater risk of losing human capital. In many developing countries, young girls are forced to drop out of school and work to supplement household income.
It is crucial that policymakers adopt measures to limit the scarring effects of the pandemic on women. This could entail a focus on extending income support to the vulnerable, preserving employment linkages, providing incentives to balance work and family care responsibilities, improving access to health care and family planning, and expanding support for small businesses and the self-employed. Elimination of legal barriers against women's economic empowerment is also a priority.
Over the longer term, policies can be designed to tackle gender inequality by creating conditions and incentives for women to work. Particularly effective are gender-responsive fiscal policies, such as investing in education and infrastructure, subsidising childcare, and offering parental leave. These policies are not only crucial to lift constraints on women's economic empowerment, they are necessary to promote an inclusive post-Covid-19 recovery. -IMF blog

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