The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to roll back gains in women's economic opportunities and widen gender gaps, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Tuesday, urging policymakers to adopt measures to limit the pandemic's scarring effects on women.
The COVID-19 had "disproportionate" effects on women and their economic status, according to a newly released IMF blog, co-authored by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, and Stefania Fabrizio, Cheng Hoon Lim and Marina M. Tavares.
The blog highlighted several factors that resulted in the disproportionate effects: First, women are more likely than men to work in social sectors -- such as services industries, retail, tourism, and hospitality -- that require face-to-face interactions, the authors said, noting that these sectors are hit hardest by social distancing and mitigation measures.
Second, women are more likely than men to be employed in the informal sector in low-income countries, according to the authors. "Informal employment -- often compensated in cash with no official oversight -- leaves women with lower pay, no protection of labor laws, and no benefits such as pensions or health insurance," they said.
Third, women tend to do more unpaid household work than men, about 2.7 hours per day more to be exact, the blog showed.
"They bear the brunt of family care responsibilities resulting from shutdown measures such as school closures and precautions for vulnerable elderly parents," the authors said, adding that after shutdown measures have been lifted, women are slower to return to full employment.
Fourth, pandemics put women at greater risk of losing human capital, the authors argued. "In many developing countries, young girls are forced to drop out of school and work to supplement household income," they said.
Stressing that it is "crucial" for policymakers to adopt measures to limit the scarring effects of the pandemic on women, the authors said this could entail a focus on extending income support to the vulnerable, preserving employment linkages, providing incentives to balance work and family care responsibilities, improving access to health care and family planning, and expanding support for small businesses and the self-employed.
They noted that elimination of legal barriers against women's economic empowerment is also a priority.
"Over the longer term, policies can be designed to tackle gender inequality by creating conditions and incentives for women to work," the authors added.
Citing an earlier IMF blog, the authors noted that particularly effective are gender-responsive fiscal policies, such as investing in education and infrastructure, subsidizing childcare, and offering parental leave.
"These policies are not only crucial to lift constraints on women's economic empowerment, they are necessary to promote an inclusive post-COVID-19 recovery," they said.