Safeguarding and advancing women’s economic empowerment in the wake of COVID-19: An opportunity to build back better

The following paper reflects the vision of GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion on recommended action points required to mitigate the consequences of the COVID -19 pandemic on women’s economic empowerment. It is intended to serve as an advocacy document to position strategic messages by #GWL members in multilateral fora and processes, including in the context of the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and Generation Equality Forum.

COVID-19 has become an unprecedented and unpredictable global crisis. Whilst it is still too early to completely and fully understand the long-term effects, social and economic forecasts predict extremely concerning scenarios, with particularly devastating effects for women.

With plummeting economic activity, women are in a worse position to face this crisis. Not only as a direct consequence of the pre-existing precariousness and vulnerability of female employment, but also because, unlike any other modern recession, the downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has hard-hit highly feminized sectors, such as the manufacturing, hospitality or retail industries. 

Emerging data also confirms a differentiated and more acute impact on women-led SMEs worldwide, partly as a result of their lower access to digital technologies and skills, financial services and assets and business networks, as well as their high levels of informality.[1]

Across the world, women’s employment is in fact overwhelmingly informal. With limited labour and social protection, it is not surprising that women informal workers have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. Domestic workers have been at particular risk. While the need for caregiving and cleaning services has increased, lockdowns and quarantine measures have made it difficult to maintain pre-pandemic working arrangements, resulting in a loss of income and employment among this largely female workforce.[2]

Although job destruction has disproportionately affected low-paid and low‑skilled jobs, women across all income groups have been largely affected, because of the burnout associated with juggling and balancing increased work andhome commitments during the pandemic. In fact, globally, the rising demand for care in the context of the COVID-19 crisis as a result of school closures and confinement measures, has not only deepened and exacerbated the already disproportionate burden of women’s unpaid care and domestic work but has also led to reductions in working time and permanent exit from the labor market. Available data overwhelmingly confirms that women, that already spent on average three times as much time as men on unpaid care and domestic work before the pandemic, are still doing the lion’s share.[3]

As the crisis exacerbates labour market instabilities along with gender inequalities in access to economic resources and in the division of unpaid care and domestic work, many more women are expected to fall into destitution. The disproportionate impacts on women could therefore reverse decades of gains achieved in gender equality in the labor market, as well as exacerbate existing disparities and the perspectives of recovery.

GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion call leaders, across the world and from all segments of society, to increase commitments to address these impacts and integrate gender equality as a central and fundamental element of all response and recovery efforts, as a catalyst for building back an inclusive, sustainable, resilient future for everyone. 

RECOMMENDED ACTION POINTS: 

Employment protection 

  • Provide targeted support to feminized sectors and occupations, including through the provision of fiscal stimulus packages to sectors where women are over-represented.
  • Support women-led enterprises and businesses, including through cash grants, subsidized and state-backed loans, tax and social security payment deferrals and exemptions. 
  • Expand and strengthen gender-responsive social protection systems, with floors to cover all women in formal and informal employmentthrough a combination of contributory and non-contributory schemes.
  • Promote legal and policy frameworks to facilitate and incentivize the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to the formal economy, including by introducing simplified tax and contributions assessment and payment regimes, in line with ILO Recommendation No. 204.

The care economy

  • Implement measures to reduce and redistribute domestic and care responsibilities within householdsand to reconcile work and family life, including in the context of remote work schemes. 
  • Prioritize investments in the care economy and in the design of comprehensive care systems, including through the provision of affordable quality childcare and long-term care services for the sick and elderly. 

Legal reforms

  • Reform and eliminate laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against women and enact legislation to promote women’s economic empowerment.  
  • Ratify ILO Convention 189 and ensure domestic workers are granted the same rights and protectionsunder the law as other occupations.

Building assets 

  • Ensure women’s financial inclusion as a key enabler for women’s economic participation and respond to the unmet demand for credit, especially among women-owned micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. 
  • Ensure increased access for women and girls to Internet and mobile technology, including through investments in education and digital literacy initiatives, in order to reduce the digital gender divide. 
  • Promote and facilitate access for women to STEM studies and careers.
  • Provide women with training in business strategies, digital skills and financial capabilities to promote their resilience and competitiveness.

Public and private sector practices 

  • Adopt measures to promote an increased participation of women-owned businesses in public procurement processes
  • Integrate gender equality principles into business practices and culture, such as equal pay for work of equal value, parental leaves, gender-responsive supply chain practices and policies to prevent and eliminate violence against women. 
  • Promote gender lens investing in women-led or -owned businesses; companies supporting gender equality in the workplace and companies developing products/ services that impact women’s quality of living.

Macroeconomic policies 

  • Ensure trade policies are gender responsive and remove trade barriers that limit women’s access to international markets.
  • Ensure gender-responsive fiscal policies to secure resources for gender equality and women’s rights policies. 

Leadership for economic recovery 

  • Support and promote women’s active participation and leadership at all levels in COVID-19 economic response and recovery plans.
  • Support and fund locally led women-centered solutions to drive systemic change to build women’s economic resilience at the community level.

Changing social norms

  • Develop national policies with adequate funding to address the increased prevalence of gender-based violence during the pandemic, including to eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace in line with the ILO Convention No.190.
  • Implement measures to transform gender-discriminatory norms and practices that deny women their socioeconomic rights and restrict their economic opportunities and autonomy.

Tracking gender data for better decision-making 

  • Invest and collect sex disaggregated data to ensure that the gender-differentiated impacts of the pandemic are recognized and effectively addressed in the crisis response and recovery plans.

[1] UN Women, 2020, Guidance for action: Supporting SMEs to ensure the economic COVID-19 recovery is gender responsive and inclusive.  

[2] Solidarity Center, 2020. “Domestic workers left out in the cold”.

[3]ILO, 2020, Observatorio de la OIT: La COVID 19 y el mundo del trabajo. Quinta edición. 

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