This Thematic Brief provides a gender analysis of the economic impacts and recovery measures to COVID-19 in the Pacific. It has been developed by the Support Unit of Pacific Women, connecting more than 170 gender equality initiatives funded by Australia and implemented by over 160 partners across 14 Pacific Island countries. Pacific Women is one of the largest global commitments to gender equality. It partners with governments, local and international non-government organisations (NGOs), private sector, disabled people’s organisations, coalitions and others to improve the political, economic and social opportunities of Pacific women and to end violence against women and girls. Its emphasis is on partnerships and locally-driven development.
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Five Key Messages
The five key messages outline the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific. The messages also highlight how a lack of gendered economic policy and budgeting results in economic response measures that benefit men, whilst failing to reach women. Information collated, while not exhaustive, draws from an extensive range of Pacific and global sources, including civil society organisations and anecdotal evidence from Pacific Women partners, and the findings of a gender analysis of the economic recovery measures in Fiji, commissioned by Pacific Women.
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- The gendered impacts of COVID-19
- Women face specific economic vulnerabilities and responsibilities.
- Women are over-represented in the informal sector and the full scale of women’s financial loss due to the impacts of COVID-19 therefore remains unmeasured and unrecognised.
- Women’s and adolescent girl’s unpaid work and care responsibilities have increased with school closures, youth unemployment and enforced migration from urban to rural areas.
- Assessing economic measures through a gender lens
- COVID-19 economic recovery plans have so far paid little attention to women’s and men’s different economic roles, needs, and vulnerabilities.
- Seemingly gender-neutral economic measures can have major gendered impacts, disproportionately affecting the opportunities, wealth, and wellbeing of women and girls.
- Understanding how economic response measures impact women and men will assist governments to plan for stronger, more gender-equal economic outcomes.
- Social protection and austerity
- Government measures intended to supplement workers immediate drop in incomes, are unevenly implemented between women and men.
- Social protection measures, together with adequate public services, are critical to responding to the needs of the most vulnerable.
- Increased pressure on government revenue and increased debt will likely result in the implementation of austerity measures (typically cutting social security measures and public services) which disproportionately affect women.
- Measures to support businesses and employees
- Women are typically in lower paid and less secure roles than men and are not eligible for formal support measures such as wage support or access to social insurance.
- Women-owned businesses are often not eligible or able to access many of the opportunities and financial benefits aimed at small businesses.
- Sector targeting
- It is critical to consider the gender dynamics of major industries targeted with financial support, as women and men are unequally affected by the expansion of different industries.
- Economic stimulus measures supporting the infrastructure, construction, and roads industries increases employment opportunities for men with low opportunities for women.
- It is critical that the sectors women participate in, regardless of their size and contribution to GDP, are recognised and supported in economic response planning and budgeting.
Health pandemics have specific and severe impacts on the lives of women and girls. Since the COVID-19 outbreak first had reported cases, the gendered impacts have been documented in the Pacific and across the world. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the crisis as gender inequalities are exacerbated resulting in women and girls facing even higher rates of violence, undertaking more unpaid domestic work, being less able to access essential health services, and being more vulnerable to economic hardship.
The long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 on the Pacific will be significant. Economic forecasts across the Pacific have predicted major reductions in gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and an economic recession for 2020 and beyond. Countries are currently experiencing high levels of unemployment, increasing rates of poverty and hunger, a major drop in fiscal income, growing debt, trade disruptions and a large reduction in business activity. The way that governments respond to, and manage, these economic challenges has major gendered implications in both the short and long-term. While economic recession affects both women and men, the impacts play out in ways that are gendered and uneven in both paid and unpaid work. The pandemic has laid bare the many existing inequalities in society and, in particular, the disproportionate hardships, discrimination, and poverty faced by women.
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Throughout the Pacific, women’s participation in unpaid care and domestic labour is high, and their participation in paid labour is low. Women overall earn less than men and are more likely to work in low-paying, informal and precarious work. The impacts of COVID-19 will likely accelerate these trends as women are forced out of the formal labour market and/or are required to care for community members.
While government response and assistance are crucial to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, women are typically overlooked in COVID-19 economic response initiatives. This is often because women in the Pacific operate mainly in the informal sector where there is little financial assistance or access to social protection. Given the informal nature of production and sales in the informal sector, the scale of women’s financial loss often remains unmeasured and unrecognised. Loss of women’s incomes also have a higher impact on family wellbeing due to women’s spending priorities, where income typically goes towards household needs.
Governments around the region have responded with various measures designed to mitigate some of the economic impacts of COVID-19, including national stimulus packages and reallocated public spending. How this expenditure is generated, allocated, and spent has gendered implications; and the extent to which economic measures are accessible and responsive is different for women and men.