Women are more likely to be in roles that place them at higher risk of infection and are more likely to bear the brunt of the economic consequences of COVID-19.

In cultures and societies around the world women play a lead role in caregiving, both within the home and in health and social services. For example, women represent 70 percent of the health and social sector workforce globally. These professional and caring roles put women at an increased risk of becoming infected and this was something documented in the other recent outbreaks too, such as the West African Ebola outbreak and in the Zika outbreak in South America. In many countries, women are socially prescribed as being primarily responsible for household labour like shopping and water collection, tasks which require women to leave the house during the COVID-19 outbreak - again exposing them to risk.

Women represent a smaller proportion of the global workforce who engage in formal employment but are more likely than men to work on a part-time basis and are much more likely to be engaged in the informal labour market. The economic consequences of COVID-19 are therefore more likely to result in reduced employment for women since informal or part-time workers are more likely to be laid off and have work hours reduced. At the same time, individuals engaged in this type of work are likely to have reduced access to employment protections. The absence of protective mechanisms could result in immediate cessation of income or being forced to continue to work in unsafe conditions (e.g. for informal workers travel may remain essential and physical distancing measures may not be upheld). School closures associated with COVID-19 may also make it disproportionately harder for women to fulfill their normal work requirements due to the fact that they perform most of the childcare.

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Editor’s notes

Author: Sian White
Reviewed by: Jane Wilbur,Bethany Caruso, Pryia Nath, Chelsea Huggett
Last updated: 11.5.2020

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