COVID-19 cost women over $800 billion in lost income — more than the combined wealth of 98 countries

COVID-19 cost women over $800 billion in lost income — more than the combined wealth of 98 countries
Rasu Begum, 35, is a single mother of two and an unemployed domestic worker living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She was put out of work due to the pandemic, was unable to pay rent and ran out of food.Fabeha Monir / Oxfam
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has cost women over $800 billion in lost income in the last year, according to a report by Oxfam International.
  • The civil rights organisation belives that women have been more likely to drop out of the work force than men due to 'care responsibilities.'
  • The United Nations estimates that an additional 47 million women worldwide will fall into extreme poverty in 2021 because they are overrepresented in sectors worst hit by the pandemic

Gender equality was uneven even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the crisis has diverged the disparity in incomes between men and women even further. The COVID-19 crisis cost women over $800 billion in lost income. According to Oxfam International, that’s more than the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 98 countries.

Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs last year. That’s a loss of 5% for women, compared to a 3.9% dip for men. And it may not even reflect the true extent of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy — domestic workers, market vendors, and garment workers — who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut,” said Gabriela Bucher, the executive director of Oxfam International, in a statement.
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Women are ‘shock absorbers’ of sexist social norms


According to Oxfam International, women have been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, largely due to ‘care responsibilities’.

Even in countries where men’s unemployment rate outpaced that of women, more women left the labour market entirely in 2020, according to data collated by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ( UNCTAD).

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COVID-19 cost women over $800 billion in lost income — more than the combined wealth of 98 countries
Female participation rates saw a bigger dip than male participation ratesUNCTAD

“As care needs have spiked during the pandemic, women — the shock absorbers of our societies — have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms,” said Bucher.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the trend that already existed in the system. Before the virus hit, women and girls were already putting in an estimated 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work daily. The estimated value of that contribution is $10.8 trillion every year — more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

It is due to these biased social norms, McKinsey estimates that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s jobs.
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The impact of the pandemic on women may worsen in the time to come


The trend of income loss represents a grim picture of what the future may look like for women all over the world. The United Nations estimates an additional 47 million women worldwide will fall into extreme poverty in 2021 because they are overrepresented in sectors worst hit by the pandemic — this includes tourism, domestic workers, and restaurant employees.

"Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs,” said Bucher.

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This trend is not restricted to the developing world but is also present in some of the richest countries, like the US.

“My husband is out of work. My employer dismissed me from my job before lockdown. I could not sleep because of tension and hunger,” Chan Banu, a 25-year old unemployed domestic worker in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, told Oxfam.

COVID-19 cost women over $800 billion in lost income — more than the combined wealth of 98 countries
Chan Banu, 25, is an unemployed domestic worker in DhakaFabeha Monir / Oxfam

Another unemployed domestic worker in Dhaka, 28-year old Aklima, had a similar story to tell. “We have had no work since the lockdown. It’s been three months. We are struggling to find a way to make a living. Everyone is in stress. There is no one to give loans. Domestic workers like me have no savings,” she told Oxfam.
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