Coronavirus Recession and its impact on women
With more than a third of the global population under lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the largest global recession in history.1 Halt in production decreased business, and trade all across the globe has led to a significant contraction in the world economy, which International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced as a ‘deep recession’. In April’s World Economic Outlook, IMF projects the global output per head contracting by 4.2 percent this year, vastly more than 1.6 percent recorded in 2009 during the global financial crisis. IMF projects -3 percent fall in global growth in 2020. The cumulative loss from around 9 trillion dollars is expected over 2020 and 2021, the amount greater than the economies of Japan and Germany, combined.2 Constant fall on the stock market since February on large numbers since 2008 financial crisis gives the picture of falling world economy.3
This “Coronavirus recession’ hitting both the advanced and emerging economies at the same time, is expected to bring the worse consequences for the world’s poor. The recession is likely to push up to 100 million people into extreme poverty, devaluing the past 3 years’ successes in poverty reduction measures.4 As low-income families suffer the most from record-high unemployment and benefit less from distant learning, the pandemic is expected to be further increasing the poverty and inequity gaps.5
The recession will enhance poverty worldwide, with a possible increase in the poverty rate up to 2.3% more than the pre-COVID rate. World Bank shares that a large share of new extreme poor will be increased in countries that are already struggling with high poverty rates. Countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to experience a surge of the new poor population.
The rise in poverty signifies a wide range of social and economic impacts in the societies, which will not be inclusive and gender-blind. The marginalized population from lower-income or middle-income countries are most likely to suffer from socio-economic consequences from the economic crisis. Women and girls, in these times, will be facing a bigger impact from the crisis than the male population.
The predominance of females in certain industries like caregiving, hospitality, frontline health care systems, textiles, and fashion industries means a disproportionate impact on women’s and girls’ economic stature. Many of these service sectors hit hard by the pandemic are disproportionately filled by women. Jobs like receptionists, housekeepers, flight attendants, restaurant service staff, hairdressers, domestic workers are majorly done by women. In Bangladesh, half of the employed women to work in the textile and garment industry, however, the pandemic has caused millions of garment workers to lose their job without salary.6
As such, the loss projected in these female-led industries due to the pandemic has been called a Pink-Collar Recession.
The economic impact of coronavirus recession on women has been manifold. The service sectors with the majority of women workers have been hardest hit and consequently, closed leaving women without paid work opportunities and means of income generation. The retail industry, for example, where women make up to 48% of the workforce, yet accounted for 61% of those laid off.7 Therefore, it will not be unfair to say that women are over-represented in the hardest-hit sectors, with also over-representation in the types of roles more likely to be cut.
In Australia, as per the labor force statistics analysis published in March, the unemployment rate of women is over 10% while the rate of unemployment in men remains around 9%. Even among the women who are still employed, the working hours have been dropped substantially by 11.5%, higher in comparison to 7.5% for male employees. The shift to working from home has been heavy for women on the accounts of their responsibility to provide care for children and family, with 56% of women against 38% of men moving their work into home.8
On the other hand, while women are more likely to cut off from paid work, they are also more likely to pick up more unpaid works. The unequal distribution in works like care and housework between men and women in households will occupy women with unpaid works. With children’s closure of schools, the elderly’s confinement to home, and growing numbers of ill family members, the caregiving demands will fall unequally on women’s shoulders. The women bringing work in their home will have to put extra effort to manage house and office work at the same time, while women in the works that cannot be brought home are more likely to drop their work to meet family care demands. The transition of women back to the workforce is already a challenge with companies and industries prioritizing consistent experience.
Additionally, the over-representation of women in informal works like caregiving and assistance has always kept women excluded from many social protection plans from the state. Loss in jobs will not only result in a lack of income but also cause economic insecurity among women. Higher male mortality from COVID-19 advances women’s risk to be unable to access social protection or other income support to their families.
As such, the coronavirus recession and its impact will be severely felt among communities that are already in disadvantaged and minority positions. Women and girls will be among the hardest-hit communities due to recession. The fact that any economic crisis magnifies the existing inequality, further widening the gender gaps in the labor market and economic system, makes it more important than ever to demand policies that are inclusive, feminist, and responsive to minorities’ needs. Feminist approaches to recovery are important that shall cater to the needs of all divisions of the population.