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COVID-19 widens gender, economic inequalities

Sept. 11, 2020 4 min read

4 min read

MASERU - COVID-19 has widened gender and economic inequalities, leaving women and girls especially hurt by the resulting economic and social fallout, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has said in a report.

 A new study titled, “gender equality in the wake of COVID-19” predicts a dramatic increase in the poverty rate for women and widens the gap between men and women who live in poverty. Impacts on women and girls have worsened across the board. Women are losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors.

By 2021, the report says around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 (M32.11) a day, including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exposes women’s precarious economic security, with feminized sectors likely to be hit the hardest.

For instance, the report says 72 percent of domestic workers across the globe, 80 percent of whom are women have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

The impacts are not just economic. For many women and girls, home is not a safe place. Violence against women has increased during this period as widespread stay-at-home measures force women and girls to shelter in place with their abusers, often with tragic consequences.

“Women typically earn less and hold less secure jobs than men. With plummeting economic activity, women are particularly vulnerable to layoffs and loss of livelihoods. Incomes of women working in the informal sector have declined dramatically,” the report says.

Like the rest of the world, the pandemic has negatively affected different sectors of the economy in Lesotho. Traditionally, women have been economically behind for the longest time in Lesotho but COVID19 has dramatically worsened the situation.

Feminized sectors such as the garment and textile industry, domestic work in Lesotho and South Africa as well as the hotels and hospitality industry have all been extremely affected by the pandemic.

That means more and more women have been laid off as these sectors try to keep themselves afloat throughout the period. This is even though women in Lesotho are already earning less as compared to their male counterparts.

According to Mpiletso Khaile Ntai, a Master of Science in Economics holder, the problem is that the country is dominated by a patriarchal society which depicts that leadership should be in the hands of men.

She said the mindset on its own gives men more economic power and that is why they own more productive resources while women remain less productive until today.

“In line with our gender roles and norms, a woman’s place is still in the kitchen and that makes her less actively engaged in economic activities. Again, we should not forget the reproductive role which already leaves women at a disadvantage as compared to men,” Ms. Ntai said in an interview with Metro.

But to counter some of these economic challenges induced by the pandemic, she recommended to the authorities that there should be gender-responsive economic empowerment programs for women as well as conditional cash grants targeting women's economic empowerment. “It is tough for women, but for those that are still in business I would advise that they stay resilient and explore other avenues that can help they remain in business,” she added.

Her recommendations are also in line with that of the report, suggesting that there should be economic support packages for vulnerable women and measures to confront their increasing time and income poverty.

The textile and garment sector in the country is dominated by women and due to the current economic challenges, hundreds of them have been forced to stay at home. A similar thing happened in the hotels and hospitality industry which predominantly survives through tourists who visit the country regularly.

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But with the borders closed coupled with the national lockdown rules that have banned operations in the sector, there has been little to no activity in the industry, leaving many women unemployed.

Domestic workers, many of whom are working in South Africa have also been forced to come home due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions in that country.

These and many other challenges mean women, already economically vulnerable, are back to square one to elevate themselves against tough and challenging social factors.

The UN report further suggests that countries should address the pandemic’s economic impacts and devastation of jobs and livelihoods.

It says there should also be the elimination of inequality in the labor market and address gender pay gaps and inadequate access to affordable childcare.

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