“I still have hope”: Overcoming unemployment during COVID-19

By Emily Janoch

The COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated 277 billion hours of paid work as of June 30, the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs. Unlike previous economic crises, those job losses are hitting women the hardest.

Clarisse Kouame (pictured above), a pearl craftswoman and mother of four children, lost her job when she had to close her store in Côte d’Ivoire because of COVID-19. She had been a pearl artisan for five years, starting her work at home before acquiring her first store. She said everything was fine until the pandemic.

“But I did not stay there waiting without doing anything. With my association of women, we did training on producing oyster mushrooms…I told myself if in addition to crafts I could have another skill, it will be of great use especially in the future. Even if today I have no financial means, later I intend to make the marketing of mushrooms another source of income…I still have hope. This is what gives me the strength to be there every day.”

The International Labour Organization estimated that by June 30, COVID-19 eliminated 277 billion hours of paid work, the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs. Unlike previous economic crises, those job losses are hitting women the hardest, since women dominate the service industries that are most affected by COVID-19 restrictions. CARE’s research confirms this. In Lebanon, 49% of women have lost jobs, compared to 21% of men. Even in the formal sector, women are losing out faster than men. In the Philippines, women in formal employment are 17% more likely to work fewer hours than their male counterparts since the outbreak of the virus.

All is not lost. In communities around the world, entrepreneurs like Clarisse, women in savings group, CARE’s staff, and our local partners, are coming up with solutions to help people find jobs, create jobs, and cope with unemployment.

What are we doing?

Keeping markets open. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CARE is working to protect women’s investments and economic activities by finding ways for women to safely access markets so they can keep their jobs. In Zimbabwe, CARE is working with government and UN Agencies to open safe markets for both producers and consumers. People in the Philippines are working with local partners and communities to set up mobile markets so traders can safely keep their jobs.

Supporting farmers. For many people around the world, their job is growing food. In India, CARE is helping migrants small scale farmers get more efficient production out of their farms, and have markets where they can sell their produce.

Help entrepreneurs market themselves. In Iraq, one of CARE’s partners is training women on how to market masks and make better sales. In Mali, CARE is helping savings groups connect to buyers in the UN system to buy the masks women make.

Adapting businesses to the new economy. CARE Egypt set up a virtual job fair for for 4 companies under the Microsoft-funded “Tawat w Ghayar” project. More than 5,000 youth applied and 396 attended the virtual interviews. Samoa is working with partners to set up digital marketplaces. Guatemala is helping people find jobs making masks with local supplies. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mali, Egypt, and Benin are all finding ways to help small traders shift their products to include masks, bags, soap, hand sanitizer, and other equipment that’s in high demand during COVID-19.

Fighting for workers’ rights. In Ecuador and Mexico, CARE and our partners are holding virtual advocacy campaigns to support domestic workers’ rights and continue to push governments and employers to protect domestic workers who are losing their jobs or being forced to live with their employers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Across Asia, CARE’s Made by Women program is working with garment factories, fashion brands, and partners to make sure garment factory workers get paid for their work and can access safe work and unemployment when they lose their jobs.

Supporting people who lose their jobs. CARE is helping more than 440,000 people with cash assistance in 35 countries. We’re giving food assistance to 1.4 million people. Bangladesh and Myanmar are explicitly designing cash transfers and CARE Packages to support garment factory workers who have lost jobs. CARE USA has launched a domestic CARE Package program to both create jobs and provide food to people who need it.

How do we do it?

Build partnerships. Most of these countries have been building partnerships with workers’ organizations, private sector companies, and governments for years to find the space where they can respond quickly in a crisis.

Understand what’s happening. In Rwanda, CARE worked with technical working groups to influence both government and private sector through presentations of quick needs assessment findings. Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Ecuador have all conducted specific studies to see who is losing their jobs and what impacts they’re facing.

Let local entrepreneurs lead. CARE is lifting up and sharing innovations that local groups find—from new ways to build hand washing stations to organizing savings groups to make masks and soap. In the words of Melch Natukunda from CARE Uganda, “When you tell them how to adapt, you miss the point.”

We work with women to help them develop the skills they need to earn money, build a successful business and sell goods in a marketplace.