October 24, 2020

'Hope in a Time of Pandemic'- Issue Spotlight #8 – Livelihood

The global pandemic has had huge implications for people all over the world. It is described as a global health crisis, but the pandemic has also had enormous socio-economic impacts.  Earlier spotlight reports have focused on the themes of inequality as discussed in MGA’s recent publication, ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic: Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy Lens’. These themes include, Physical and Mental Health, Mobility, Food and Water, the Sacredness of Earth, Political Institutions and Housing. This report looks at what has been revealed in terms of the impact on peoples’ livelihoods, and focuses particularly on the circumstances of women.  Following a discussion on the various impacts on livelihoods, we provide suggestions for action and advocacy.

What has been revealed in terms of livelihood?

The pandemic has meant that throughout the world, governments and their health teams have had to implement ‘stay at home’ orders and work lockdowns. For the most part, this has been a preventative measure to stop further spread of the virus and to contain infection. Whilst this has been a significant health and safety strategy, it has had a huge impact on the livelihood of many. In their report on COVID and the world of work, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that working hour losses in the final quarter of 2020 are expected to amount to 8.6 per cent, or 245 million FTE jobs. It further states that ‘the decline in employment numbers has generally been greater for women than men.’ 

Workplace closures have, for a significant proportion of workers, meant loss of work hours and hence loss of income. In both the formal and informal economy, livelihoods have been threatened. The risks to livelihood have had a disproportionate impact on women. UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutiérrez, stated in his policy brief on COVID 19 and its impact on women that ‘nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty.’ The feminisation of poverty has long been a concern for women and girls throughout the world. However, this global pandemic has highlighted even further, already existing inequalities and marginalisation on account of gender.

In addition to the impact of workplace lockdown and ‘stay at home’ orders, absence from work due to contracting COVID 19 has meant that many have lost income due to sickness. This is especially evident in the healthcare sector, in which ‘women make up 70 percent of the global health workforce, putting them at greater risk of infection.  In some cases, the major breadwinner has been incapacitated due to the virus, and in the worst of cases, the sole income provider has died, leaving the family household with acute financial stress. In some cases, this has left families in or at risk of poverty. Globally, as of 21 October 2020, there have been 40,665,438 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,121,843 deaths, reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

COVID-19 has also majorly affected the livelihoods of those working in industries ranging from the agriculture industry to the hospitality sector. Farmers have been faced with loss of livelihood due to varied supply and demand, and lack of workers. Transport both nationally and internationally has been drastically reduced, resulting in major breakdowns of supply chains and causing further job loss. The hospitality sector has also been hit hard, with most restaurants and cafes being closed whilst trying to contain the virus. This has resulted in loss of jobs and income, especially for casual and flexible workers who often do not receive any workplace benefits. This lack of workplace security has highlighted the fragile positions in which some workers find themselves.  Some governments have provided employment packages for employees to continue to be employed and have an income during the crisis, in the hope that after the pandemic they will resume their positions and their businesses will survive. This, however, has not been the case for many, especially women, who have been noted as having less security in the workplace.

With the increase of children out of school due to the pandemic, extra pressures have been placed on women to undertake unpaid care work. As women take on greater care demands, they risk losing important gains made in the workforce. For women who head up their household this is a major risk factor. The UN Secretary-General discusses the risk to women’s paid work in his policy brief on ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Women’, where he states, ‘From past experience and emerging data, it is possible to project that the impacts of the  COVID-19  global recession will result  in a prolonged dip in women’s  incomes and labour force participation, with compounded impacts  for women already living in poverty’.

At a global level, 60 percent of women work in the informal economy where they generally experience unregulated working conditions, low wages and a lack of social protections (ie guaranteed vacation, social security, health insurance, maternity leave). Without these social protections women are more at risk of discrimination and marginalisation. Women migrant workers are even more vulnerable to these types of conditions. According to a report entitled, Addressing the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women Migrant Workers, ‘Women migrant workers already have to grapple with multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, gender-specific restrictions in migration policies, insecure forms of labour, racism, and xenophobia. Women migrant workers face a higher risk of losing their livelihoods, having their labour and human rights violated and contracting coronavirus’.

There is a clear need to design and implement long term livelihood recovery plans with a gender lens. Social protections are necessary to prevent women from being left behind especially as governments work towards recovering from the coronavirus by stimulating their economies. A social protection floor will free women from dependency and increase economic opportunities.

The Mercy World continues to be of service to vulnerable populations, especially women who are experiencing risks to their livelihoods

Throughout the Mercy World, Sisters, Associates and Partners have been responding in a multitude of ways to those suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. In many places throughout the world, Mercy is the point of reference for individuals and families. Numerous anecdotes shared from the Mercy World in ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic’ attest to the fact that many vulnerable populations are being assisted in some way. This is evident through ministries that are, providing direct health care,  comforting those experiencing grief, providing food and shelter to those in need, offering financial assistance through livelihood projects and praying for all those in need of care.

What are we being called to?

  • Raise the plight of women and girls in all efforts to address the socio-economic impact of COVID-19
  • Advocate for supporting measures in response to COVID-19 that go beyond workers who hold formal sector jobs and include informal, part-time and seasonal workers, most of whom are women.
  • Celebrate and acknowledge frontline workers, recognising that they are vital workers in our society who are valued and make a positive contribution
  • Pray for all those whose livelihoods are impacted by COVID-19

Learn More

Hope in a Time of Pandemic: Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy Lens




Messages to: Angela Reed rsm - Head of Mercy Global Action

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