Comments, Human Rights, In Focus

Coronavirus: women at the highest level of vulnerability

Despite the fact that the vast pay and labour-related inequalities that exist between men and women were not caused by Covid-19, the pandemic has exacerbated this gap to further women’s disadvantage.


Ivette Fernández


Women are currently facing a serious threat to their livelihood, an increase in domestic labour, and restricted opportunities in terms of accessing social security if a large-scale economic crisis takes place, such as the one promised by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A study by the World Economic Forum published a few months ago estimated that it could take 100 years to close the economic gap between men and women.

Given the current pandemic and the devasting impact it has on social equality, a few more decades could be added on to this prediction.

According to research carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO), women are disproportionately affected by this situation, and the modest progress made in the last few decades in the sphere of gender equality is at risk of retrogression, while the existing inequalities in the work environment could be exacerbated.

According to this institution, the grave impact on women is related to the fact that they disproportionately make up some of the most-affected economic sectors, including the hotel industry, catering, commerce and manufacturing.

At global level, almost 510 million (40%) of all employed women work in the most-affected sectors, compared to 36% of men, which include the domestic sector, healthcare, and social services.

In these industries, women run a bigger risk of losing their job, as well as of being infecting and of transmitting the disease, and it’s less likely that they will have social security.

Moreover, the ILO determines that the inequal distribution of childcare even before the pandemic began has also worsened in the current situation, exacerbated by schools and childcare services being closed. In determining the most vulnerable people in the pandemic, it is almost unanimously agreed that women will be among the worst hit.

The warning that women are expected to be disproportionately affected in terms of being fired or dismissed from employment came at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

According to this body, in the tourism industry, women make up 54% of workers in the accommodation and catering sectors.

As many are employed informally in low-skilled jobs, they are less likely to receive unemployment benefits or other social security means. For migrant women, the impact is directly proportional in developing countries where remittances are a relevant form of income.

Judging by the study conducted by ILO, 75% of domestic workers around the world, more than 55 million people, face the risk of losing their income in the current circumstances.

In addition, 37 million of the workers whose jobs are at risk are women. In some regions, the ILO adds, female domestic workers are predominantly immigrants, who need their pay to support their family in their home country. As a result, the lack of pay, along with the closing of remittance services, leaves their relatives at risk of going hungry.

For Latin America, the situation for women is particularly worrying.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), if the effects of Covid-19 lead to just 5% of the population losing their source of income, with just a 3.5 percentage point increase in poverty levels, 107 million women in this region could find themselves in conditions of complete poverty.

In addition, the containment measures for this pandemic could have an impact in the most-affected sectors: social services, wholesale and retail trade, the storage industry, and the communications sector.

In Latin America, 78% of employed women work in these sectors. At the same time, the quarantine measures serve to exacerbate the crisis, given that 72.8% of the total number of people in the healthcare sector and 11.4% of domestic workers are women. (PL)

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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