Photo Credit: Jeremy Stenuit
The World Economic Forum has called COVID-19 “the biggest setback to gender equality in a decade”. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a global economic downturn, and small and large businesses alike are closing their doors forever. But studies are showing that there has been a disproportionate impact on women entrepreneurs and their businesses. According to a recent report, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than their male counterparts in this crisis.
Australia’s Market Development Facility (MDF) reported that “women will be impacted particularly severely in this crisis. Often employed in insecure jobs in vulnerable industries such as hospitality and manufacturing, women are likely to see the economic and social gains of the last decade recede.” 527 million women worldwide work in the four hardest-hit sectors (accommodation and food services, real estate, administration, manufacturing, and wholesale or retail trade), none of which transition easily to remote working.
Globally, many women also work in the informal sector. Roles such as street vendors, domestic workers, subsistence farmers and seasonal agriculture workers are considered part of the informal or grey economy, and workers in these roles are often without the protection of labour laws that provide insurance or paid sick leave.
On top of job losses, economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately burdened women with unpaid work and caregiving, making it more likely that when people do start going back to work, men will be returning first.
Women are key to economic recovery
This past July, UN WOMEN and WOMEN 20 urged G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to be intentional about women when designing recovery packages, expanding “fiscal space that recognises and invests in women’s specific priorities”.
“Enabling women’s potential fully and equally with men promotes sustainable, balanced, inclusive growth, improves the representation of women within institutions and intergenerational development outcomes, and is also thus crisis-cushioning,” continues the statement. “This will ensure building back better beyond COVID-19, achieving G20 commitments to gender equality.”
Organisations such as the Palladium-managed MDF agree, and view the COVID-19 pandemic as a crucial opportunity for many developing economies and markets to ‘build back better’ towards a more sustainable future. But to do so requires inclusion and investment in women and women-owned businesses from the outset.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, if countries take effective action to reduce gender disparities in job losses caused by COVID-19, there would be greater overall economic output by 2030. The report predicts that “recovery efforts that invest in the female workforce, could significantly boost employment opportunities and drive inclusive economic growth.”
Kelly Roberts-Robbins, Associate Director of Palladium Impact Capital (formerly Enclude), argues that gender-lens investing is one of the most impactful ways to take action to empower women, and in turn, rebuild more resilient economies.
“COVID-19 has only highlighted existing inequalities and strengthens our resolve that relief, recovery, and rebuilding better must include women,” Robbins explains. “Investment in women reliably reaches families and communities. And it’s not just about the women entrepreneurs who own those investee companies. Women entrepreneurs are also more likely to hire women and the positive effects on communities are multiplied.”
Gender-lens investing uses capital to deliver financial returns while improving the lives of women, girls, and their communities, and is one of the pillars of Palladium Impact Capital’s strategy.
Former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Palladium Board Member Julie Bishop agrees, noting that gender equality is the key to unlocking many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will benefit all people globally – not just women.
“Empowering women and girls is one of the fastest ways to reap social and economic dividends,” Bishop says. “However, the private sector must do its part.”
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