Pandemic pushes 47 million women, girls below poverty line
A new report by the United Nations Women and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has projected that the COVID-19 pandemic would drastically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women in Africa, who are already living in poverty.
According to the report, the pandemic will push about 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line, reversing decades of progress in eradicating extreme poverty.
The poverty rate for women, which was previously projected to decrease by 2.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021, has been estimated to increase by 9.1 per cent due to the pandemic and its fallout.
The projections, commissioned by UN Women and UNDP, and carried out by the Pardee Centre for International Futures, at the University of Denver, shows that while the pandemic would impact global poverty generally, women, especially those of reproductive age would be disproportionately affected.
The report stated that by 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on $1.90 a day or less), there would be 118 women, and is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.
Executive Director, UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said the increases in women’s extreme poverty, particularly at these two stages of their lives, were a stark indictment of deep flaws in the ways the continent has constructed its societies and economies.
“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. In fact, overall, women’s employment is 19 per cent more at risk than men’s.
“The evidence we have here of multiple inequalities is critical to driving swift, restorative policy action that puts women at the heart of pandemic recovery,” She said.
The data, summarized in a UN Women report, “From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19,” also showed that the pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls.
This would increase the total number of women and girls living in extreme poverty to 435 million, with projections showing that the number will not revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.
According to the report, the reality might even be grimmer as these projections of increased poverty rates for women and girls only account for the downward revision of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), excluding other factors such as women leaving the workforce due to childcare responsibilities, which may also affect the sex distribution of poverty.
Commenting on the report, UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, said 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.
According to him, women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis as they are more likely to lose their source of income and less likely to be covered by social protection measures.
“Investing in reducing gender inequality is not only smart and affordable but also an urgent choice that governments can make to reverse the impact of the pandemic on poverty reduction,” he said.
Meanwhile, the report noted that the fallout of the pandemic will shift forecasts of extreme poverty across regions.
With 59 per cent of the world’s poor women currently living in sub-Saharan Africa, the region is projected to continue to host the highest number of the world’s extreme poor.
While these figures are alarming, the study estimated that it would take just 0.14 per cent of global GDP, about $2 trillion, to lift the world out of extreme poverty by 2030, and $48 billion to close the gender poverty gap.
However, the real number could end up being much higher, especially if governments fail to act or act too late, as the unabated rise of other pre-existing gender inequalities is also expected to impact these figures.
The report also showed that women are employed in some of the most affected sectors, like accommodation, food services, and domestic work, and are particularly vulnerable to layoffs and loss of livelihood.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in June, 72 per cent of domestic workers globally, lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
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