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Women Have Lost More Income To COVID Than 98 Countries Put Together!

Posted: May 5, 2021

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The recent Oxfam report on women at work world over gives data for the losses women as a collective have suffered due to the year of pandemic, and continue suffering.

A recent Oxfam report released on 29th April 2021, tried to gauge how the Covid-19 pandemic particularly impacted women in terms of income and employment. The findings were disheartening, to say the least!

As with any other calamity, the COVID-19 pandemic and the world-wide lockdown that followed in 2020 affected women disproportionally more than men.

According to the report, women across the globe lost a minimum of 800 billion dollars of income due to the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. This figure is nearly the combined GDP of more than 98 countries.

The ILO (International Labour Organisation) has also published an  analysis of the COVID crisis on 25th January 2021, which said that women lost more than 64 million jobs last year, which accounts for about 5 percent of the workforce, compared to a 3.9 percent loss for men.

Why have women at work suffered disproportionately more?

Over the decades of struggle, women have wrested their rights from a work culture that was based on lives of men and what works for them. A huge number of these women, (particularly in retail and tourism, but also all spheres), lost this hard-won presence in the public domain as they were either laid off, or needed to take up more care work, parenting responsibilities, or household work with the lack of domestic help and men not particularly responding to the need of the hour.

There are several reasons behind the disproportionate losses of particularly women:

  1. The logic of equal pay for equal work is still just a pipe dream, and women continue to be paid far less than their counterparts, for equal work. Huge segments of the women laid off were already employed in lower paying jobs with no benefits or job security. The devaluation of their work meant that they were seen as more expendable.
  2. In a society that imposes archaic gender roles on people assigned female at birth, and in which most social institutions like marriage, family, etc. are in place to favour men and maintain the patriarchal status quo, women’s contribution to economic activities are devalued.
  3. Women are also seen as primary care-givers, especially during a global pandemic.

How capitalism made matters worse

In addition to the gendered division of work, the Capitalism and the large corporations that work purely on its tenets actively pushed the female workforce out of the job market.

As more and more shopping shifted online, small businesses which were largely female owned lost their customers to large corporations. Their limited resources and specific services meant that they could not compete with online markets and their wide variety of products and services at lower rates.

According to a New York Times’ report in 2020, women lost nearly 800 billion dollars in income, but ta the same time, Amazon saw a 200 percent rise in profit. Jeff Bezos himself became nearly 80 percent richer than he was before the pandemic. Billionaires all through the lockdown and later, took over the work spaces and profit of various small scale manufacturers and businesses.

Oxfam report says informal sector hit harder; women the hardest

Women from the informal sector, too, have been adversely hit by the pandemic.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, as a very large number of the ‘migrant’ workers who worked in the informal sector made their way homewards along with daily wage labourers etc., due to factories and businesses closing, domestic workers were told not to come for work; most of these without any other means to sustain themselves. Local businesses lost their livelihood as customers moved online for their own safety, to large, exploitative corporations like Big Basket, Amazon and Grofers.

Domestic helpers found their entry in gated residential complexes restricted on the grounds of social distancing. A huge number of women employed as domestic help were denied their pay for these months. The reasons were two-fold – a section of their employers were also laid off or their pay reduced for various reasons, and in many cases insensitive or entitled employers who took their work for granted refused to pay them while they were not coming to work.

The job losses in these informal sectors of the economy which employ more women than men are higher, so the absolute losses women have suffered in terms of earning is a much higher amount than is formally recorded.

The hardships continue into 2021

With the second wave hitting various parts of the world since January, and the intense failure of the government in containing the second wave in India since April, circumstances continue to restrict women from working in paid positions. This is over and above the caregiving work they are doing as whole families fall sick, and struggle to survive.

The advances made by women over the years of feminist struggles are being challenged by this unprecedented loss of employment and work from home regime, setting us back decades. Women will have to struggle much harder to get back what we had achieved in the work space, to right the wrongs of last year and this year.

Image source: adamkaz from Getty Images Signature/ Free for Canva Pro

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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional

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