COVID-19; it’s not only a health issue, it proved to be cross border crisis having its severe impacts across the Global Economy.
On the other hand, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not Gender neutral, as it affects men and women differently. The next examples will describe different aspects that could affect both women and men and the risk that will be caused due to this pandemic.
- Women are more likely to lose their jobs than men. As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic roll through economies, reducing employment opportunities and triggering layoffs, temporary workers, the majority of whom are women, are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of job losses. According to the International Labor Organization, globally, women represent less than 40% of total employment but make up 57% of those working on a part-time basis. (Unemployment Risk).
- Poverty rates to be increased between women. Due to job losses, poverty rates will be increased. On the other hand, in many developing countries, women are either self-employed or work as contributing family workers, for example in family farms. In South Asia, over 80% of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment; in sub-Saharan Africa this figure is 74%; and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54%of women in non-agricultural jobs participate in informal employment. Accordingly, this will put more burden on the National Social Safety Nets which may not be wide enough to cover all women. (Poverty Risk).
- Health Service sector reeling under restrictions. The health service sector is being hit hard by the restrictions imposed to manage the spread of the coronavirus. Given that some 55% of women are employed in the service sector (in comparison with 44% of men), women are more likely to be adversely affected.(Female Health Specialists and specifically Nurses, as front line staff are to suffer from high Risk at workplace).
- Moreover, female-dominated service sectors such as food, education, hospitality and tourism are among those expected to feel the harshest economic effects of the measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. (Increase of Poverty Risk).
- Coronavirus seem to be killing more men than women. Global data has suggested that men might be more susceptible not only to catching coronavirus, but to dying from it. Globally, COVID-19 Death Rate of confirmed cases registered 4.7% between Males against 2.8% between Females.
When it comes to the cause of this, Global Health 50/50 have said it could be down to the fact that men are more likely to have problematic pre-existing conditions and to lead a ‘riskier’ lifestyle. For example, rates of drinking and smoking are both much higher in men than women. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the US and, according to data on the British Heart Foundation website, one in seven men in the UK die from coronary heart disease a year compared to one in 12 women. (All this puts citizens at a greater health risk and puts more burden on the Government to cover health insurance bills).
How can Governments respond to gender needs through COVID-19 and mitigate the multiple risks that citizens will face?
In addition to previous mentioned impacts, the economies will be facing further negative effects on Gender due to COVID-19. Accordingly, every country should take prompt financial measures and contingency plans to respond to different Gender needs. Financial responses to COVID-19 varies between countries. For those affected countries with developed PFM systems provide some level of flexibility for the executive branch to use budgeted allocations. Reallocations between line items or within budgetary program is a first permitted action to secure budget funding for immediate COVID-19 response. Further, most legal frameworks provide for activation of contingency funds by the executive in emergency situations. Governments and legislature need to ensure sufficient budgetary funds, by reprogramming existing spending and earmarking additional funds.
On the other side, in lower-income countries and in fragile contexts where PFM systems already suffer from systemic weaknesses, unfortunately, the Public budgets stand handicapped in facing such huge unexpected health and social expenses to cover citizens’ needs. In addition to that the governments need to support other productive sectors to keep the economy activities on going for future sustainability. To overcome such dilemma, developing countries should follow different approaches and out the public budget channels. A country could implement one or more of the following scenarios:
- Corporate Social Responsibility Approach: in which the country launches financial supportive programs/funds to collect donations from banks, private sector corporations and wealthy people, this approach will avoid the public budget of any burden or any increase in the budget deficit.
- Use the Monetary Policy tools and financial facilities to mitigate the liquidity risk in the economy. In this regard, the interest rates could be reduced, loans installments of individuals and small business firms (women-owned in specific) could be rescheduled…etc.
- Ask for Donor Grants if possible, from International Financial Institutions (The World Bank, IMF, EIB, EBRD…etc.). Recently, many IFI took rapid measures to inject liquidity into the public and private sectors of countries in distress.
Immediate Recommendations for responding to Gender Needs through COVID-19
Many diversified recommendations could be proposed to overcome COVID-19 crisis, but our concern here will focus mainly on the financial aspects relevant to Gender, and will provide list of recommendations for consideration on how policy makers can address this issue:
- Ensure gender expertise and gender budgeting in response planning to tackle measures from a Gender perspective.
- Embed the concerned government agencies’ budgets with contingency allocations to face unexpected situations. Those are the most sensitive to Gender needs could be: Health, Labor, Education and Social Development. Also, new budgetary program could be created under the budget ministry, while spending can be executed by various ministries and entities and accounted for under the budgetary mission code reported by budget ministry.
- In developing countries, it’s very crucial to enhance Corporate Social Responsibilities Initiatives and launch a “Gender Friendly Finance Fund”.
- As much as is possible, in funding decisions consider the additional complications COVID-19 will have and the particular impact women will face.
- Consider the longer-term economic impact COVID-19 will have on women’s economic empowerment and target resources ensuring they do not fall further behind. In this regard, the government should design all further macro-economic measures with a strong gender perspective. In particular, immediate economic measures being introduced to support small and medium businesses should include specific measures to raise awareness of women business owners of how to access these measures.
- Ensuring the availability of sex-disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden…etc.
- Develop targeted women’s economic empowerment strategies, or explore cash transfer programming, to mitigate the impact of the outbreak and its containment measures including supporting them to recover and build resilience for future shocks.
Although COVID-19 is indiscriminate, if such measures are not taken in early response and planning the long-term negative impact on gender equality is likely to be far more difficult to address.