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the first economic crisis that attacks women as a priority

The NGO Oxfam said Thursday that women deprived of work due to the global health crisis had lost $ 800 billion in income. The shock amount aims above all to draw attention to the fact that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic is the first to affect them so much.

An 800 billion dollar hole. This is the amount of lost income for women around the world since the start of the pandemic, Oxfam said Thursday April 29.

The amount represents more than double the annual budget of France (250 billion euros, or 300 billion dollars) and even exceeds the annual expenditure of the United States to ensure their defense (732 billion dollars).

This shocking figure should recall “that women are economically much harder affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”, underlines Gabriela Bucher, deputy director of Oxfam International, in a press release. They lost 63 million jobs in 2020 globally, a decrease of 5%, against a decrease of 3.9% for men, according to figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Pandemic and “She-cession”

Oxfam took the number of those job losses, multiplied it by the average salary of a woman in the world – again inferred from ILO data – to end up with $ 800 billion in revenue gone up in smoke since the start of the pandemic for women.

The approximate figure has its limits due to its calculation based on very diverse salary situations around the world, recognizes Oxfam. “The average salary decreases, for example, the importance of income inequalities between women,” notes the organization.

The fact remains that these 800 billion dollars illustrate one of the peculiarities of the economic crisis caused by the health situation. “This is the first ‘she-cession’ (contraction in English designating a recession primarily affecting women),” notes Alexandra Fischer, an economist at the University of Exeter, in a study on gender inequalities in the time of the Covid-19 published in March 2021.

Until this pandemic, most economic crises “due to financial shocks, trade or linked to natural disasters primarily affected production factories where men are overrepresented”, recalls Armine Yalnizyan, the Canadian economist who invented in 2008 the term “he-cession” (a recession that mainly affects men) in 2008, interviewed by the Canadian television channel Global News.

But everything changed with the appearance of the Covid-19. This time, “the first victim of confinement across the world was the service sector, which employs a lot of women, especially in developing countries”, underlines Hélène Maisonnave, an economist at the University of Le Havre. who worked on the economic impact of the pandemic on women, contacted by France 24.

Ironically, “services that have not been disrupted by the pandemic, such as information, communication or even insurance, mostly employ men ”, underlines the European Commission in a report of March 2021

Increased domestic pressure

Hélène Maisonnave was able to verify this professional fragility of women in the face of the pandemic in South Africa, a country that this specialist has studied in detail. “80% of women work there in only four sub-categories of the service sector (home work, personal services, retail trade and financial services) very affected by the containment measures”, she noted..

Women are also shaping up to be the losers in the emerging economic recovery. While the factories have started to produce at full capacity again, “the service sector, which often involves more direct human contact, is struggling to restart,” underlines Hélène Maisonnave.

In developing countries, women are also over-represented in the informal sector, notes an ILO note. “Whether in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, these very precarious, undeclared jobs were often the first to disappear,” says Oxfam.

Even when the pandemic did not directly deprive them of their jobs, some women have had to put their careers on hold due to the lockdown. In a good number of countries, “they are still responsible for the domestic tasks: they look after the children, look after the sick and keep the house in order. With the closure of schools, this domestic pressure has increased considerably, making teleworking much more difficult, if not impossible, for those who could have had recourse to it ”, explains Hélène Maisonnave.

A problem that does not only affect poor countries. In his first speech to Congress on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden explained that “3.7 million Americans had left the workforce since February 2020”, mainly because of “additional domestic responsibilities”. It is even, officially, one of the main reasons why the American president devoted an entire part of his employment support plan to the development of childcare facilities for children and the elderly.

Answers not up to par

If the pandemic has already cost women dearly, the bill could increase even further. “It was found after the Ebola epidemic (in 2014) that women who had lost their jobs and had been away from the labor market for a long time to take care of household chores had more difficulty than men in finding a job. post ”, recalls Hélène Maisonnave. This economist fears that the same phenomenon threatens women at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An effect that could even be felt over several generations. “We notice that mothers often ask their daughters as a priority to help them with domestic chores, which can lead to dropping out of school or being late,” she emphasizes. In which case, the Covid-19 could seriously hurt the fight for economic equality between men and women in the long term.

For Hélène Maisonnave, the problem is that “this phenomenon is largely underestimated and that we are not at all up to the challenge”. Few of the leaders, like the American president, have integrated this dimension into their responses to the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.

Only eleven countries have introduced specific rules to allow employees to organize their working hours in order to take care of domestic tasks in parallel, the World Economic Forum found in a study of policies to support women adopted. across the world during the pandemic. And only 35 have set up specific financial support for those – and those – who have had to leave their work in order to take care of a loved one or children. If the figure of 800 billion dollars in lost income by women is approximate, if not exaggerated, the diagnosis of the problem is, itself, more precise.

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