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Covid-19: Trade disruptions to hit women in jobs, businesses, harder than men

  • Published at 11:34 pm August 9th, 2020
Trade disruptions to hit women in jobs, businesses, harder than men
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One of the reasons for this is that a larger share of women work in sectors and types of firms that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic

Women are likely to be harder hit than men by trade disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The dangers are particularly acute in developing countries such as Bangladesh, says the World Trade Organization (WTO).

A new note of WTO, "Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Women in Vulnerable Sectors and Economies," revealed this last week.  

Women are at risk of suffering more than men from the trade disruption generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the reasons for this is that a larger share of women work in sectors and types of firms that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, said the WTO.

Women make up a larger share of the workforce in manufacturing sectors, such as textiles, apparel, footwear, and telecommunication products. Those industries have experienced some of the largest falls in export growth during the months of the pandemic, said the WTO.

For example, female employees represent 80% of the workforce in the readymade garment (RMG) sector of Bangladesh, in which industry orders declined by 45.8% over the first quarter of 2020, and by 81% in April alone, it added.

WTO data on the effects of trade disruption caused by Covid-19 on employment in manufacturing showed that 37% of women faced higher risks, which was 26% for men. 

About 32% of men faced medium risk against women’s 22%, while 45% faced low risk, which was 43% for women.

On top of that, in low and middle-income countries, 10% of women faced higher risk of trade disruption in services, which is 6% for men. In addition, 27% of women faced medium risk against men’s 25%.

In the services sector, women also outnumber men in industries that have been directly affected by travel restrictions, such as tourism and business travel services, the note mentioned.

It also highlighted how the existing gender gap in terms of income, education, information technology skills, access to finance, and childcare responsibilities put women at a further disadvantage in the pandemic.

A large share of firms owned or managed by women are micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and lower levels of financial resources and limited access to public funds are placing the survival of such businesses at greater risk, the WTO observed.

Women’s incomes decline

The temporary closures of schools and childcare facilities have had a significant impact on working families, with the resultant burden falling disproportionately on working mothers, the note said.

Some had to change their work schedules, reduce their working hours, or take unpaid leave, it added.

Women who may lose their jobs are often required to reduce their paid working hours, also face lower opportunities than men in finding other jobs, partly because employers believe women have limited flexibility due to greater housework and childcare responsibilities compared to their male counterparts.

Given that women continue to earn less than men, income losses due to the Covid-19 recession may further increase poverty among women, said the WTO.

Inclusive recovery needs to take account of gender specificities

Although not gender-specific, the pandemic has led many governments to adopt a broad range of support measures, including cash support and bailout packages to help individuals and businesses.

Some of these urgent support measures have been tailored specifically for MSMEs. 

In some cases, the lack of any gender dimension in the design of support measures can prevent women from fully benefiting from the support, said the organization.

In that context, some central or local governments have adopted specific gender-sensitive policies, mostly in the form of social protection initiatives, said the organization, urging others to adopt such measures.

These gender-sensitive initiatives take different forms, ranging from cash transfers and food vouchers, to paid sick leave and childcare subsidies, it added.

The WTO note also recommended that restoring safe transport channels and considering women’s concerns were key to supporting the sector.

Increasing women's participation in economic activity can be part of the solution to the post-pandemic recovery, noted WTO.

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