The note estimates the risk from trade disruptions on men and women, and finds that women are more likely to be negatively affected by COVID-19-related trade disruptions.
Income losses due to the COVID-19 recession “may further increase poverty among women,” the authors warn.
To mitigate gender-specific impacts, governments could focus on maintaining open markets to build faster, more inclusive growth, and targeting legal and social reforms to support women.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) reports that women are more likely to be negatively affected by COVID-19-related trade disruptions than men, particularly in the least developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries. The information note highlights how the pandemic’s effects are exacerbating existing vulnerabilities.
The note titled, ‘The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Vulnerable Sectors and Economies,’ uses employment data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys, monthly merchandise exports data, and statistics on services to estimate the risk from trade disruptions on men and women. The authors observe that COVID-19 is “having a different impact from previous global crises,” which have generally had a greater impact on men’s employment because men typically work in sectors more exposed to business cycles. The COVID-19 recession, in contrast, is having a greater impact on women because the sectors in which they work are more affected by lockdown and distancing measures.
Many channels through which COVID-19 is having a greater impact on women are those at the heart of gender inequalities.
The note emphasizes that a larger proportion of women work in sectors and firms that have been particularly affected by the pandemic, increasing women’s risk posed by the trade disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, women compose a larger share of the workforce in manufacturing, which includes apparel, footwear, textiles, and telecommunications, sectors that have experienced some of the largest falls in export growth. Women represent 80% of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment production workforce, an industry that experienced a 45.8% decline in orders in the first quarter of 2020.
Women are also disproportionately present in the informal sector, engaged in activities that cannot be done remotely, or employed in sectors that are highly exposed to international travel restrictions. In addition, the paper observes that existing gender gaps in education, information technology (IT) skills, income, access to finance, and childcare responsibilities put women at an increased disadvantage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WTO note concludes that the pandemic’s effects are “aggravating existing vulnerabilities,” as many of the channels through which COVID-19 has a greater impact on women are “at the heart of gender inequalities,” such as lower wages for women, fewer educational opportunities, greater reliance on informal employment, limited access to finance, and social constraints. Women’s lower rates of IT skills and limited access to digital technologies also affect women’s opportunities for teleworking and e-commerce, further limiting their ability to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. The note warns that income losses due to the COVID-19 recession “may further increase poverty among women.”
The note proposes ways government policies could mitigate the gender-specific impacts of COVID-19, including maintaining open markets to build faster, more inclusive growth. The note further recommends implementing appropriate education and labor policies, and targeting legal and social reforms to support women workers, traders, and consumers.
The paper also highlights the findings of a WTO-World Bank report on ways to ensure that women continue to benefit from trade after the pandemic. The publication shares how trade can expand women’s role in the economy, which can be linked to higher levels of gender equality, increased wages, improved working conditions, and improved women’s access to education and skills. [Publication: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Vulnerable Sectors and Economies] [WTO Press Release]