By Sophia Sun

LONDON, April 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world $800 billion in lost income in 2020, Oxfam said on Thursday, as it demanded steps to tackle gender inequality.

Women, overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors like retail, tourism, and food services, lost more than 64 million jobs last year, said the charity, a 5% total loss, compared to a 3.9% loss for men.

The pandemic has "dealt a striking blow" to recent gains for women in the workforce, said Oxfam Executive Director Gabriela Bucher, in a written statement.

The $800 billion figure, based on International Labor Organisation data, likely underestimates the total cost shouldered by women since it does not include wages lost by millions of women in informal jobs.

COVID-19 unleashed an economic storm that has hit the poor and vulnerable hardest. Women lost their jobs at a faster rate than men due to many women working in hard-hit industries like restaurants and hotels.

Women in the informal economy lost out due to having little or no health care, unemployment benefits, or other protections.

The key figures

  • Even before the virus struck, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of daily unpaid care work — from cooking and cleaning to caring for sick relatives — a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year.
  • An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day in 2021.
  • In the US, one in six women of color are facing food insecurity because of the pandemic.
  • According to the World Economic Forum, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

What is being done?

Some governments have taken steps to address women’s economic and social security.

US states are getting $39 billion from the federal government to support child care, part of a $1.9 trillion relief package that President Joe Biden signed in March.

New legislation in Argentina offers flexible work schedules to those caring for children or the disabled.

Only 11 countries have introduced shorter or flexible work arrangements for workers with care responsibilities, while 36 have strengthened family and paid sick leave for parents and caregivers, said Oxfam.

"As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies for all," said Bucher.

"A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women's employment and unpaid care work through strong social safety nets and vibrant care infrastructures," she added. "Recovery from COVID-19 is impossible without women recovering."

(Reporting by Sophia Sun, Editing by Tom Finn, (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly). 


Demand Equity

Women Lost $800 Billion in Income in 2020 Due to COVID-19: Report