Pandemic to push 47 million more women, girls into poverty: UN

Coronavirus will widen the poverty gap between women and men and undo progress made in recent decades, the UN warns.

Argentina woman
Silvia Puntano walks to her home after receiving a ration of stew in a plastic container at a soup kitchen, during the coronavirus outbreak, in Villa Azul, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina [File: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic will widen the poverty gap between women and men, pushing 47 million more women and girls into impoverished lives by next year, and undoing progress made in recent decades, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Worldwide, more women than men will be made poor by the economic fallout and significant job losses caused by COVID-19, with informal workers worst hit in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, according to new UN estimates.

“The increases in women’s extreme poverty…are a stark indictment of deep flaws in the ways we have constructed our societies and economies,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women, said in a statement.

During the pandemic, women have lost their jobs at a faster rate than men have, as they are more likely to be employed in the sectors hardest hit by long lockdowns such as retail, restaurants and hotels, it said.

Women are also more likely to work in the informal economy, typically in jobs as domestic workers and cleaners that often come with little or no healthcare, unemployment benefits or other protections.

South Africa
Restaurant and bar workers hold candles outside a closed bar as they protest against the coronavirus lockdown regulations prohibiting the sale of alcohol in Cape Town, South Africa [File: Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

“We know that women take most of the responsibility for caring for the family; they earn less, save less and hold much less secure jobs,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), about 70 percent of domestic workers globally had lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 by June this year.

Overall, the pandemic will push an additional 96 million people into extreme poverty by next year, of whom nearly half are women and girls, according to estimates by UN Women and the UN’s Development Programme (UNDP).

This will bring the total number of women and girls worldwide living in extreme poverty – defined as a person living on $1.90 or less a day – to 435 million and it is expected this figure will not revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.

Woman in Thailand
Temperature readings are taken for people attending Eid al-Adha prayers at the Thai Islamic Center amid the spread of the coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25-34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women – a gap expected to increase to 121 women for every 100 men by 2030, according to UN estimates.

Governments could adopt measures to help women in low-paid and informal jobs, said Achim Steiner, a UNDP administrator.

“More than 100 million women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers,” Steiner said.

Nearly three in every five of the world’s poor women live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the region will continue to be home to the highest number of the world’s poorest after the pandemic.

Recent gains made in reducing poverty rates in South Asia are threatened as the region is set to face a “resurgence” in extreme poverty, with women worst affected, the UN said.

Source: Reuters