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Fewer working hours, higher stress, drop in income: UN survey shows how Covid affected women

The surveys were conducted in April across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Samoa, the Solomon Islands & Thailand.

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New Delhi: Women are more likely to have their working hours reduced, experience a higher rate of stress, and are less likely to be covered by health insurance in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

These are some of the findings of surveys conducted by the UN Women’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Thailand.

The surveys, conducted in April, have revealed how the pandemic has had gendered consequences in these nations.

While preliminary data is available only for a few countries — Bangladesh (2,350 total respondents), Cambodia (1,164), Maldives (4,754), Pakistan (2,668), the Philippines (1,887) and Thailand (5,031) — it has shed light on how women continue to be affected more than their male counterparts during the pandemic. 

Access to information

Owing to differences in cell phone ownership, access to internet and education, fewer women in Bangladesh and Pakistan are receiving necessary information about the pandemic, the survey report stated. 

Women’s access to reliable sources of information is not essential just for themselves, but also their families since they “tend to play an important role in promoting hygiene routines within the household and caring for family members”.

Also read: How coronavirus has made India’s devastating gender gap even worse

Mental health and insurance

While Covid-19 is hitting men harder than women, with several studies revealing how more men are dying because of the virus, the case is not the same for mental health. 

As an increasing number of women participate in unpaid care and domestic work or losing jobs and income, and are facing more instances of domestic violence than before — all owing to varying degrees of a coronavirus-induced lockdown — the surveys revealed a higher rate of stress and anxiety among them.

Barring Bangladesh and Samoa, more women than men in Cambodia, Maldives, Pakistan, Thailand, Nepal and Philippines have reported mental health issues, the report stated. 

Access to medical care has also proven to have a gender disparity with women from more than half the countries surveyed being unable to see a doctor when they needed to. 

While data revealed it is difficult for both men and women to find necessary medical supplies, hygiene products and food, women in Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan “are more likely than men to experience longer wait times to see a doctor”. 

Moreover, women in Bangladesh and Pakistan are less likely to be covered by health insurance, while in Maldives — where public health service is universal — private top-up insurance reflected a similar trend. 

Employment and work

In most countries, initiating a lockdown and gradually rolling it back was a balancing act between saving lives and livelihoods. 

While those working in the informal sector are more likely to lose their jobs due to an economic shock — much like the pandemic-induced lockdown — the reality is only much graver for counties in the Asia-Pacific, given a majority of them are informally employed.

With job losses ranging from 25-56 per cent in the informal sector, women are more likely to have their working hours reduced in Bangladesh and Maldives, while in Cambodia, Pakistan and the Philippines, the men are likely to have more reduced working hours.

In the formal sector, women in Bangladesh, the Maldives, the Philippines and Thailand are seeing large reductions in working hours.

In Bangladesh, “women in formal employment are almost six times as likely to work fewer hours than their male counterparts since the outbreak of the virus”.

Women are also more likely to report a “drop in income from investments or savings and financial support from family and friends”.

The lockdown has also prompted many to take up unpaid domestic work such as cleaning, cooking, serving meals, caring for the elderly and children etc. However, these duties “appear to almost exclusively be women’s responsibilities in all countries surveyed”. 

Meanwhile, men concentrate on “tasks like shopping for the household, making repairs and playing with children, which are overall less time-consuming”, the survey report stated.

Also read: Women losing jobs due to Covid crisis could cost the world $1 trillion


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