New Study: COVID-19 condemns millions of women to poverty, when they could be a solution to prosperity

In post-crisis recovery, women are critical agents of change

GENEVA, 30 APRIL 2020 – The majority of women around the world work in low-paid positions, the informal economy, or in agriculture jobs with few protections. These are the sectors that are being worst hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, and as the crisis drags on and worsens across the Global South, millions will be left without work, and in poverty.

740 million women work in the informal sector, which has been worst hit by the economic fall out of the coronavirus. [1] Furthermore, women are less likely to benefit from recovery and stabilization measures, as gender and social norms prohibit access to economic opportunities and financial resources.

A new study by CARE International “COVID-19 Could Condemn Women to Decades of Poverty: Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s and Girls’ Economic Justice and Rights” reveals how the global pandemic is having a real and immediate economic impact on women in the developing world. Here, 45 million women work in the garment industry, and face the loss of their sole income; while nearly 44 million female domestic workers across the world, and the tens of millions of poor rural women reliant on farming, can no longer access fields and livelihoods.

"Though the COVID-19 crisis is affecting everyone globally, it is not gender blind," said Joanne Owens, CARE Canada's Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs. "Women and girls will suffer disproportionately from the fallout of this pandemic. Women’s and girls’ economic opportunities will be diminished, their access to financial services will decrease, and gender-based violence will continue to increase and risk lives."

CARE’s analysis found that an estimated 90 percent of female entrepreneurs participating in CARE’s projects in Sri Lanka have seen their income decrease in recent weeks; particularly as their supply chains have been critically disrupted. The effects extend beyond economic repercussions, as the report also reveals how female entrepreneurs in Guatemala are also struggling to meet basic needs, such as food and water, for their families.

Despite this, the COVID-19 crisis also offers a unique opportunity. Prioritizing women and economic recovery along more equitable lines is not just morally right, it is also economically practical. Women have long been seen as critical agents of post-crisis recovery, and investing in gender equality has the potential to stimulate the economy and reverse losses to global wealth by up to $160 trillion. [2]

"As we begin to look towards economic recovery, it is crucial that our efforts to rebuild are inclusive and do not entrench inequalities," said Owens. "CARE’s policy brief on the implications of COVID-19 on women’s economic justice and rights outlines how we can work towards economic recovery while building more just and inclusive economies and societies. By investing now in women and in their economic empowerment, we have an opportunity to accelerate economic growth while creating more equitable socioeconomic realities."

Mareen Buschmann, CARE International UK’s policy specialist on Women's Economic Empowerment, added: "The pandemic offers policy makers the unique opportunity to turn crisis into a momentum to reset and build back more just and inclusive societies by driving a new model for equitable growth. Embracing female leadership is key to this."

Key findings of the report include:

  1. Women and girls face a particular risk of infection due to the types of work that they do. For example, women make up over 70 percent of the global health and social workforces.
  2. Economic downturns particularly affect women and girls. Many are employed in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic—including domestic work, entertainment, retail, smallholder farming, tourism, and travel—as well as in the informal economy and as migrant workers.
  3. Women’s and girls’ economic opportunities are diminished. As unpaid care burdens are increasing, livelihood opportunities are decreasing, and women entrepreneurs may find it difficult to rebuild their livelihoods.
  4. Women’s and girls’ access to financial services is decreasing. An economic downturn will especially affect women’s financial inclusion, including access to loans and savings mechanisms. However, access to these resources will be vital for overcoming the crisis.
  5. Gender-based violence—of all types—is on the rise and risking lives. Women and girls are more exposed to domestic violence while quarantined with their abusers. Financial stress and unemployment are further contributing to an increased risk, and work-based violence has also been increasing, particularly for front-line workers.
  6. Lack of women's and girls’ leadership and voice and regressing norms: Women and girls are already marginalized from decision-making within their households, communities, and the wider economy, yet frequently hold the key to solutions given their role in communities. COVID-19 further puts these hard-won gains at stake.

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CARE has spokespeople available. For media inquiries, please contact:

Lama Alsafi
media@care.ca | 613-228-5641

Notes to editors: 


About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca