How financial cost of COVID can be greater for women?

India’s ongoing lockdown has directly impacted more than 10% of its population. Let us understand what do these trends mean for women?

August 17, 2020 11:06 IST | India Infoline News Service
What could be the financial cost of COVID? The actual amount is yet to be calculated as the world is still incurring these costs. But the global loss of GDP alone is pegged at $15 trillion. The concomitant losses like jobs and purchasing power could magnify the impact. The economic impact is coming from the lockdown. While lockdown has been the case across the globe, it has been longer and more stringent in India. While the merits of the extended lockdown are not clear, what is clear is that it has huge economic costs.

Macro aspects of Coronavirus lockdowns

A lockdown means multiple things for the economy. It means a virtual cessation of economic activity or, at least, industries operating at sub-optimal capacities. For many industries like airlines and hotels, this is an opportunity loss. The seats that fly empty or unoccupied hotel roomsare sunk costs. Lockdown also means lesser demand for manpower and lesser demand for workspaces. These are negative for corporate demand.

Chart Source: Statista

India’s ongoing lockdown has directly impacted more than 10% of its population. Since the COVID-19 has been more prominent in urban India compared to rural India, this has impacted scores of office and factory jobs. What do these trends mean for women? Clearly, COVID-19 poses a threat to women’s livelihoods and increases their burden of work at home. The pandemic is exposing inequalities as it is impacting women’s health, rights and freedoms a lot more. For example, an advanced country like UK reported 700% increase in domestic violence. One can imagine the impact in other countries.

More women are going out of work in the US; and elsewhere

While it is true that women function more in vulnerable jobs like healthcare and social care, their condition is hardly better in routine industry and service jobs. Take the case of the US which prides in gender equality and women empowerment. The negative impact on women jobs due to the pandemic is the worst in last 40 years.

Chart Source: The Economist

The above chart represents how the jobs situation has suddenly moved against women during the pandemic. More than the numbers it is the steepness of the fall that is disconcerting. Even during the recession of the 1970s, the additional percentage of women losing jobs compared to men was not as stark as in 2020. In most of the sectors, it is female jobs that have been dispensed with, rather than male jobs.
As an expert on the subject put it very eloquently, the deep economic downturn accompanying the pandemic is likely to have a distinctly female face. That means; more women are likely to be exposed to the health implications, economic implications and the social impact of the economic slowdown than ever before. If this is happening in the US, it is most likely happening in the rest of the world too.

Oh yes, technology sector has been unfair too

Technology sector has long been considered more democratic and merit-based compared to other industries. For example, some sectors like metals, autos and capital goods have been predominantly male bastions. However, that is not the case with the technology sector. It was always said that technology brought in more democracy and equality than all the democracies in the world. But is that true in 2020?

The overall impact on women is going to be really negative if you look at the chart above. While 5% of men have lost their jobs in the technology industry, nearly 8% of women have lost their jobs. Considering that women are already under-represented in the sector, it follows the absolute impact on women is going to be a lot higher. For a long time, women were disproportionately represented in lower paid jobs without benefits like domestic workers, casual labourers, street vendors and small-scale services. ILO has estimated that 20 crore jobs will be lost in all these low paying sectors by the end of the pandemic. That is problem enough. Even more democratic sectors like technology are no better. That is the big problem.

Women’s health crisis could become another economic crisis

Women representation is disproportionately high in social and healthcare sectors and that exposes them tremendously to the pandemic. In fact, the inequity is sharper in more developed economies. That could have larger economic implications as the chart shows.

Chart Source: IMF

Women make up 70% of healthcare workers but are vastly outnumbered by men in healthcare management. As a result, the women at the forefront of the pandemic have little say in key decisions, which is counter-productive.

At the end of the day, the pandemic raises bigger questions about women and financial security. Women in insecure jobs need social protection including health insurance, paid sick leave, childcare, income protection and unemployment benefits. For economic stimulus to be effective in the long run, this is where the entire stimulus story really must begin.

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