April 9 2020

The impact of COVID-19 and the gender issue in Latin America

Social protection revolves around three fundamental ideas: guarantees of basic well-being, insurance against contextual or life-cycle risks, and compensation for social damage resulting from the materialisation of social problems or risks. Social protection therefore aims to respond not only to the risks faced by the population as a whole - for example, loss of employment, disability or old age - but also to structural problems such as poverty and inequality.

Taking the basic ideas of social protection (SP) into account, it is applied here to a world where the gendered division of labour in society and culture has disproportionately assigned to women the responsibility of caring for children and adults in need. This is the case not only through unpaid work at home, but also when combined with formal (or informal) work outside the home. Outside work that brings them more than just liberation: but also a "normalised" view of their situation and role.

COVID-19 has a very significant negative economic impact on top of an already difficult economic situation in the Latin American region. This is due to the drop in exports, the complete halt in tourism, the disruption of supplies, and the drop in investments in conjunction with a collapse in the price of raw materials. For Latin American countries, the main exporters of raw materials, these trade shutdowns, combined with past  economic policy decisions, are a disaster. We can already see the direct negative impact of this situation on food insecurity, education, health and the economic insecurity of women and men, all of whom are at risk of layoffs. Nevertheless, given that it is women who take care of their household, this pandemic is a real social disaster. Domestic workers are the first to be sent home, with or without pay, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They hope to receive some form of subsidy from the state as a sort of palliative social protection response.

All this will cost Latin America and the Caribbean about 3.1 points of the regional gross domestic product (GDP). The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that there could be a decrease in regional gross domestic product (GDP) of -1.8%, which could lead to an average increase of 10% in the unemployment rate, ranging from 8.2% to as high as 18%. This economic fall will raise poverty rates from 29.8% to 35.4% (from the current 185 million to about 220 million), while extreme poverty will rise from 10.8% to 14.5% (from 67.4 million to 90 million), according to projections by the ECLAC Executive Secretariat. This means that by the end of 2020, the region will have regressed by 13 and 15 years, respectively,  on these two indicators. This will be a major obstacle to achieving the sustainable development goals of Agenda 2030.

If we take into account the gender dimension with these figures, and it is estimated that more than 50% of the population is female, 110 million of them will end up in extreme poverty, and a high percentage of them are the sole providers of their household. This means that their situation will directly affect children, adolescents and the elderly.

Social protection has preventive measures in place to respond to emergencies such as these. After having previously prepared and updated the database, including gender, the following responses are possible:

Since the impact on women and men is different, it is important to take these aspects into account in order to provide a gender-inclusive social protection response, according to the UN Women's report it is necessary to:

  1. Ensure the availability of data organised by sex, and with a gendered analysis, this includes differentiated infection rates, differentiated economic and care burden impacts, barriers to women's access, and prevalence of domestic and sexual violence.
  2. Ensuring a gender-sensitive response means allocating sufficient resources to meet the needs of women and girls. The response must address needs in a differentiated manner.
  3. Involve women in all phases of the response and in national and local decision-making, especially those groups of women who are most affected by crises, such as women working in the health sector, domestic and informal sector workers, and migrant and refugee women.
  4. Ensure that the immediate needs of women working in the health sector are addressed.
  5. Promote direct consultation with women's organisations on the situation of women, in particular their needs and appropriate measures to deal with the pandemic, ensuring that their views, interests, contributions and proposals are integrated in the response.
  6. Public health messages must reach women in their diversity and address the needs of women in their different roles, especially information on promotion, prevention, mitigation and hygiene.
  7. Take direct compensation measures for informal workers, including health-, domestic-, and migrant workers and for those sectors most affected by the pandemic, so that income generation and livelihoods of the most affected women can be maintained.
  8. Promote policy measures to recognise, reduce and redistribute the overload of unpaid work that occurs within households for health care and care of children, older persons and persons with disabilities, all of which is mostly carried out by women.
  9. Take into account the different needs of women and men in medium- and long-term recovery efforts.


By Georgina Bruno - WSM Dominican Republic
Cover photo © Audrey Claeys



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