COVID-19 cost women globally over $800 billion in lost income in one year

Women article written on the 29 Apr 2021

The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries, said Oxfam today.

Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs last year —a 5% loss, compared to a 3.9% loss for men.

“Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are globally disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs. Instead of righting that wrong, governments broadly treated women’s jobs as dispensable —and that has come at a cost of at least $800 billion in lost wages for those in formal employment,” said Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain.

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy —domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers— who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut. COVID-19 has dealt a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce.”

While women were losing out, companies like Amazon were thriving. Amazon gained US$700 billion in market capitalisation in 2020. The $800 billion in income lost by women worldwide also just tops the $721.5 billion that the US government spent in 2020 on the world’s largest defence budget.

Globally, women are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors, such as retail, tourism and food services, that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the majority of women work in informal employment. Women also make up roughly 70% of the world’s health and social care workforce —essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.

Across the globe women have been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, largely due to care responsibilities. Even before the virus struck, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

“For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, unpaid care work has exploded. As care needs have spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms,” said Ms Morgain.

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day in 2021. 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.

Although some governments have taken positive measures to address women’s economic and social security, the response remains grossly insufficient. 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.

“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. They must invest in a gender, racial and climate-just economic recovery that prioritises public services, social protection, fair taxation, and ensures everyone everywhere has access to a free vaccine,” added Ms Morgain.

“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. Recovery from COVID-19 is impossible without women recovering.”

For interviews with Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain please contact Jackie Hanafie on 03 9005 7353 or jackieh@oxfam.org.au.