By: Lynn Desjardins
The anti-poverty charity Oxfam says the pandemic cost women around the world $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to the combined wealth of 98 countries. In Canada, almost half a million women who lost their jobs did not return to work as of January 2021 and more than 200,000 are said to have fallen into long-term unemployment. In all of the world, women lost more than 64 million jobs– a loss of five per cent compared to a loss of 3.9 per cent for men.
Pandemic ‘reversed decades of progress’
“COVID-19 has exacerbated existing economic inequalities and reversed decades of progress towards gender equality in Canada,” said Amar Nijhawan, a women’s rights specialist at Oxfam Canadaf. “There are now fewer women in the workforce than there were in 1990…The government’s economic recovery plan must focus on women-majority sectors and prioritize the needs of vulnerable workers.
“And globally, the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs.”
Women overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors
Oxfam notes that at the same time as women were losing out, companies like Amazon gained $700 billion in market capitalization and the money lost by women in 2020 just tops what the US government spent on its defense budget that year.
Oxfam says women around the world are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors such as retail, tourism and food services. These are sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Racialized women who arrived in Canada within the last 10 years hold the majority of these precariously low-paid jobs, says the charity, they were more likely to lose their jobs in 2020 and 8.6 per cent of them remained unemployed.
Oxfam says the effects of these changes will be unevenly felt for long into the future. It predicts an additional 47 million women around the world will fall into extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day in 2021.
While some government have taken steps to address women’s economic and social security, Oxfam says the response remains grossly insufficient.