Asia

Women, urban poor bear the brunt of pandemic: Report

Women and the urban poor, especially those who relied on the informal sector for work, have so far borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, according to a report published yesterday.

It said that unless governments addressed the issue, those who are vulnerable faced the risk of being permanently disadvantaged as the pandemic ebbs and economies recover.

The care of sick family members and lost employment opportunities were taking a toll, said the report by Geneva-based aid group International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

So, too, have the lockdowns that have pinned migrants in place, leaving many with few options, little support or nowhere to go, Mr Francesco Rocca, the IFRC’s president, told the media during an online press conference to present the aid group’s findings.

“We can’t hide that these have consequences on the lives of people,” Mr Rocca said, referring to the lockdowns.

“This is part of the reality. We have to work on it. We have to support the international community and governments.”

To be sure, Mr Rocca stressed that the restrictions were necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

“This is not happening because of confinement,” he said. “It’s happening because of the virus.”

The IFRC report consisted of an exhaustive survey of the economic impact of Covid 19, as well as interviews in July with people whom the Red Cross helped during the pandemic as well as surveys completed by 38 of its national chapters – or societies.

In some instances, the results reinforced what was long known, including the fact that some 80 per cent of emerging economies fell into recession as tourism and exports evaporated.

But it was Covid-19’s near universal impact on women that was among the chief takeaways of the report. Women, especially, were more likely to lose their jobs, care for the sick and get sick themselves. Women were also more likely to fall victim to gender and sexual violence at home.

Mr Rocca said: “Not just in Covid times but in humanitarian crises, generally, it is women who pay the highest price.”

Among women seeking help from the Red Cross in Spain, 18 per cent had lost their jobs, compared with 14 per cent of men. At the same time, women were more likely to care for the sick, while tending to children.

A September report by non-governmental organisation Care found that more than a quarter of 6,000 women surveyed reported an increase in mental health challenges, compared with 10 per cent of men.

In the Philippines, nearly 155,000 people were displaced by pandemic lockdowns, many of them daily wage earners and factory workers. The Red Cross in the country established a 24-hour call centre to provide support to people affected by Covid-19.

The pandemic erased at least 81 million jobs in the Asia-Pacific last year, according to data from the International Labour Organisation.

The Asian Development Bank found that 80 million had joined the ranks of the poor in the region, while Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency, said 24 million people were newly food-insecure, which meant that they regularly went hungry.

The pandemic threatened to make the vulnerable even worse off, said Ms Teresa Goncalves, an IFRC spokesman and the report’s co-author.

“There’s been a loss of opportunity for education or work,” she said. “We wanted to highlight this in terms of finding global solutions to make sure either that it doesn’t happen again or that we can at least help the people who have been hurt.”

Targeted programmes, including cash transfers, vocational training and support setting up micro enterprises, would help alleviate misery, according to the report.

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