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Women bear $800bn brunt of Covid-related job losses

Few people have avoided the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as is often the case in humanitarian crises, it is women who have paid the highest price.

Last year, Covid-19 cost women at least $800 billion – the combined GDP of 98 countries – in lost income. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs, a five percent loss compared to 3.9 percent for men.

But while women were losing money, companies like Amazon were thriving. The company gained $700 billion on the markets in 2020, while women’s $800 billion losses also top the $721.5 billion that the US government spent on the world’s largest defence budget.

Around the world, women are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors such as retail, tourism and food services – industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Most women across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America work in informal employment. They also make up roughly 70 percent of the world’s health and social care workforce – essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from Covid-19.  

Across the globe, women have been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, predominantly due to care responsibilities. Even before the virus struck, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day, contributing at least $10.8 trillion a year – more than three times the size of the global tech industry – to the global economy.

“Economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs.” said Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland.

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working in the informal economy – domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers – who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut.”

Shahida Akter Lucky (25), an unemployed domestic worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh, holds her baby son as she queues for a food parcel from Oxfam. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Although some governments have taken positive measures to address women’s economic and social security the response remains grossly insufficient. Only 11 countries have introduced shorter or flexible work arrangements for workers with care responsibilities, while 36 have strengthened family and paid sick leave for parents and caregivers.

“Even before the virus struck, the responsibility for caring in Ireland was deeply gendered and severely unbalanced. Last year, Oxfam Ireland estimated that women’s unpaid care work contributes at least €24 billion to the Irish economy every year – the equivalent of 12.3 percent of the entire annual economy,” added Mr Clarken.

For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, the demands of unpaid care work have rapidly increased. As care needs spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms.

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty in 2021. According to the World Economic Forum, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

“As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, our government must seize this opportunity to build a more equal, inclusive economy for everyone living in Ireland. Our Citizens’ Assembly has laid out what needs to be done for gender equality – offering concrete actions across politics and leadership, caregiving and childcare, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, pay and the workplace, social protection, as well reforming the Constitution,” Mr Clarken explained.

“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work, as recovery from Covid-19 is impossible without women recovering.”

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Women’s lost income in 2020 totalled combined wealth of 98 countries

  • Citizen’s Assembly recommendations on gender equality must be a heart of Covid-recovery plans 
  • Millions more women at risk of extreme poverty in 2021 

 29 April 2021

The Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries – dealing a striking blow to recent gains for women in the workforce, said Oxfam today. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: "Economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs. 

“This conservative estimate doesn’t even include wages lost by the millions of women working across the world in the informal economy —domestic workers, market vendors and garment workers— who have been sent home or whose hours and wages have been drastically cut.”

Globally, women are overrepresented in low-paid, precarious sectors, such as retail, tourism, food and textile services, that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Women also make up a majority of the world’s health and social care workforce. In the EU alone, 76 percent of healthcare workers are women —essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from Covid-19.

Women have also been more likely than men to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours during the pandemic, largely due to care responsibilities. The Covid-19 crisis has shown yet again that it is the care economy, a ‘hidden engine’, that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies turning.  

Clarken went on to say: “Even before the virus struck, the responsibility for caring in Ireland was deeply gendered and severely unbalanced. Last year, Oxfam Ireland estimated that, women’s unpaid care work contributes at least €24 billion to the Irish economy every year - the equivalent of 12.3 percent of the entire annual economy.

“For women in every country on every continent, along with losing income, the demands of unpaid care work have rapidly increased. As care needs spiked during the pandemic, women —the shock absorbers of our societies— have stepped in to fill the gap, an expectation so often imposed by sexist social norms.” 

The effects of these dramatic changes will be unevenly felt for years to come. An additional 47 million women worldwide are expected to fall into extreme poverty in 2021, while the World Economic Forum predict that closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years due to negative outcomes for women in 2020.

Clarken concluded: “As we move from emergency measures to long-term recovery, our government must seize this opportunity to build a more equal, inclusive economy for everyone living in Ireland. Our Citizens Assembly has laid out what needs to be done for gender equality – offering concrete actions across politics and leadership, caregiving and childcare, domestic, sexual and gender based violence, pay and the workplace, social protection, as well reforming the constitution.

“A fair and sustainable economic recovery is one that supports women’s employment and unpaid care work, as recovery from Covid-19 is impossible without women recovering.”

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors 

  1. Despite Ireland’s work towards achieving gender equality in recent years, the gender pay gap remains an issue, and female employment rates are slightly lower than the European average – something that should be considered against the backdrop of Ireland’s relatively low level of state funding for subsidised childcare and the lack of investment in childcare infrastructure. 
  2. Childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU – young families can pay the price of a second monthly rent or mortgage for crèches, which can limit or impede a woman’s choice to return to work or pursue employment in certain fields or professions. 
  3. In addition, women in Ireland are over-represented in the low paid sector, can be working reduced hours due to care responsibilities and are also more likely to have to leave paid employment to fulfil unpaid care work of children or elderly dependents. This in turn results in reduced benefits and pension contributions – creating a pension gap - possibly extending cycles of financial insecurity or poverty into retirement age.
     
  • Women’s total income loss is an estimate derived from the change in the number of women working between the years 2019 and 2020, as captured in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) indicator: Employment by sex and age -- ILO modelled estimates, Nov. 2020 (thousands) — Annual. To achieve our income loss figure, Oxfam first estimated the average income among women globally and then multiplied this figure by the number of women working in 2019 and 2020. The average income figure comes from the International Labour Organization’s indicator: Mean nominal monthly earnings of employees by sex and economic activity for the year 2019. The ILO's monthly earnings data includes fifty countries representing every region of the world. The monthly averages are multiplied by twelve to estimate an annual earnings figure. We keep women’s annual average income constant between 2019 and 2020 (2019 is the last year there is data available). The calculation is an estimate and is susceptible to data limitations. For example, using average income among women globally diminishes the extent of economic inequality among women. Further, regarding data describing employment by sex, the ILO cautions: Imputed observations are not based on national data, are subject to high uncertainty and should not be used for country comparisons or rankings. 
  • Although some governments have taken positive measures to address women’s economic and social security, including the infusion of $39 billion by the Biden administration into the childcare sector and new legislation in Argentina that offers flexible work schedules to those caring for children or the disabled, the response remains grossly insufficient. Only 11 countries have introduced shorter or flexible work arrangements for workers with care responsibilities, while 36 have strengthened family and paid sick leave for parents and caregivers.
  • Oxfam Ireland’s submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Quality included recommendations on: 
  1. Gender responsive budgeting 
  2. Gender pay gap 
  3. Gender Equality in leadership and participation 
  4. Gender equality in the care economy 
  5. Gender equality in development and aid 

You can read their full submission here: https://www.oxfamireland.org/sites/default/files/Oxfam%20Ireland_CA%20Submission_Gender%20Eqaulity_March2020_Final.pdf  

 

 

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Climate change, food insecurity and hunger: Three crises, inextricably linked

Sarah has been a subsistence farming taking care of her family for 25 years in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. Sarah accesses the Nyanyadzi Irrigation scheme to water her crops. Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

By Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland and IHREC Commission Member

Two important events took place last week – events that concern some of the most urgent crises facing humanity.   

On Tuesday, hundreds of organisations across the world marked one year since the UN warned of a “famine of biblical proportions” due to deepening crises because of more frequent natural disasters, changing weather patterns, and conflict. Crises only made worse by the global pandemic.

Responding to this grim milestone, they published an open letter calling on world leaders – particularly those from wealthy nations – to urgently increase aid and prevent 34 million people from being pushed to the brink of starvation this year. As despite advances made in recent years, the pandemic, coupled with conflict and climate change, could push millions more into extreme hunger, setting back the fight against poverty by a decade.

On Thursday and Friday, US President Joe Biden hosted 40 world leaders, including Ireland at his virtual Earth Day Summit in an effort to increase global climate ambition, lower emissions, and build resilience. Given the significance of these events, there has never been a more fitting time to talk about climate change, food insecurity and hunger. 

In August 2019, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, published its Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The document looked at the impacts of a changing climate on the land and its ecosystems, focusing on topics like soil degradation and shrinking water supplies, as well as solutions for sustainable land management and food security. The report laid bare the critical issues we are facing as a global community and the life-or-death challenges being faced by the communities with which Oxfam works. 

In fact, more than half of the IPCC document’s authors were from developing countries, reflecting the vital role these nations play in both climate change decision-making and research, particularly when it comes to land and food security. After all, it is the developing world’s communities that are most affected by hunger and food insecurity, both of which are now a greater threat because of climate change. 

Today, our global food system feeds the majority of the world’s population and supports the livelihoods of more than one billion people. Yet tragically, according to the latest Global Hunger Index, some 690 million people remain undernourished while 144 million children under the age of five suffer from stunting – a sign of chronic malnutrition. A further 47 million children are suffering from wasting, severe weight loss that, without the proper treatment, can be fatal. The food system is already feeling the stress of non-climate influences such as conflict, which is the biggest driver of global hunger. The decade-long war in Syria, for example, has led to 12.4 million people – or almost 60 percent of the population – going to bed hungry, while after six years of conflict, 16.2 million Yemenis rely on food aid to survive.

Add temperature increases, unpredictable rainfall patterns and extreme weather events to these non-climate-related pressures and the food system will continue to buckle. Climate change alone will lead to lower crop yields and higher food prices affecting the world’s most vulnerable communities including the 3.1 billion people, or the poorest half of the world’s population, who were responsible for just seven percent of emissions between 1990 and 2015.  

The IPCC report highlights that higher temperatures and more extreme weather events are having a severe impact on food security, particularly in Africa’s drylands, parts of the Mediterranean and mountainous areas of Asia and South America.   

The communities we work with around the world can attest to these changes. In Burkina Faso, for instance, mothers like Ouedraogo Aguiratou have witnessed climate change wreak havoc on the land they rely on for their very survival. The 39-year-old farmer says her land has been getting poorer, and harder to cultivate. When the rains come, they wash away the soil she needs to grow her crops. Widow Aminiata Diallo, also from Burkina Faso, is suffering too as a result of climate change. In her community, water is so scarce that they can only cultivate a third of their land.   

According to the IPCC, adaptation strategies are key to reducing, even avoiding, the negative impacts of climate change on food security. Work is being done by communities with support from organisations like Oxfam to build boreholes and install water pumps in communities struggling with drought as a result of climate change. Farmers are learning adaptation techniques, such as how to fertilise the soil with compost and prevent soil being washed during the rainy season. 

However, the IPCC also warn that there are limits to adaptation if climate change continues unabated. Wealthier countries must play their part in taking action against this deadly threat by urgently cutting their emissions and supporting vulnerable nations with climate finance for new, robust, life-saving adaptation strategies. After all, during a 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth, it was the richest one percent who were responsible for twice as much pollution as the poorest half of humanity.  

In addition to tackling the climate crisis head-on, as was done for the pandemic, global leaders must fund the UN food security appeal to help those most at risk now, and work to end conflict and achieve a global ceasefire. 

Without these interventions, millions more will be pushed to the brink of starvation. 

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Oxfam Reactive: Minister Simon Coveney’s comments on vaccine inequality

27 April 2021

In response to Minister Simon Coveney’s comments on vaccine inequality, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said:

"We welcome Minister Coveney’s comments about the need to ensure that protection of vaccine patents and intellectual property rights don’t undermine efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic globally. We echo the Minister’s call for vaccine makers to share manufacturing know how and capacity more widely around the world. The proposal for a TRIPS waiver at the WTO is a suitable mechanism to help achieve this.

"On Friday, the EU has an opportunity to ensure intellectual property rights are not protected above human life. We call on Ireland to end its support of the EU’s position and engage with fellow member states to reverse the EU's continued opposition to this essential intervention - that is supported by over 100 low-and middle-income countries.

"This is an opportunity for Ireland to show leadership on the world stage in the interest of the world’s most vulnerable people. Ireland should, with other EU countries, follow Belgium’s example who just this week came out in support of the TRIPS waiver.

"Leaving low-income countries, some of which are the hardest hit by resurging waves of the virus, dependant on handouts and leftovers will not remedy the pandemic. We have the tools to overcome Covid-19 – now let's share them. This is after all a global health emergency."

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes

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Irish politicians across political spectrum call on EU to support TRIPS Waiver

  • Over 300 MEPs and MPs Join Chorus of Voices Calling for a TRIPS Waiver at the WTO
  • TRIPS waiver - powerful and effective way governments can demonstrate commitment to global cooperation

27 April 2021

Ahead of the next TRIPS Council meeting at the WTO this Friday, Irish politicians from nearly every political party, including Independents and Senators, have signed a joint appeal, alongside hundreds of MEPs and members of national Parliaments across the EU, expressing their unequivocal support for the TRIPS waiver.

Their call joins 175 Nobel laureates and former Heads of State and Governments, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), scientists, trade unions, NGOs and the general public as the European Commission and Member States, including Ireland, continue to oppose the patent waiver, which would help increase global production and availability of Covid-19 vaccines and related equipment globally.

Closer to home, organisations campaigning for a People’s Vaccine have sent letters to the Committee on EU Affairs and the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment asking them to review Ireland’s support of the EU’s opposition to the TRIPS waiver. A letter will also be sent to Minister Coveney this week to ask the Irish Government to implement the recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defence on the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “Momentum behind the call for support of the TRIPS waiver is growing significantly. It is fantastic to see so many of our own politicians now publicly adding their names in support of this life saving measure that could move us towards vaccine equity.

“Just last week, in response to queries from Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, Deputy Robert Troy, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said that there is ‘an important opportunity for Ireland to be a leader in ensuring the safe and equitable distribution of vaccines to all’.

“And he is correct. Supporting the TRIPS waiver would be among the most powerful and effective available ways for governments to demonstrate their commitment to global cooperation and increase global access to vaccines.

“We call on Ireland to end its opposition to the TRIPS waiver and work to persuade their EU colleagues to support this proposal from over 100 countries at the WTO meeting this Friday.

"Reports from India this week indicate that they are losing one life every four minutes as the country grapples under a new wave of the virus. These are the types of headlines we can avoid moving forward – but only if there is a united response to ending the pandemic. 

“If the situation remains unchanged, the interests and profits of the few will determine the fate of the many.

“It is not too late for Ireland, or the European Commission and EU governments, to change course and finally listen to leading experts, elected representatives and the people who hold the most power – their voting public."

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to the Editor

This press release is the result of a coordinated effort led by Health Action International (HAI) and is endorsed by a further group of 24 European and International civil society organisations:

  • Irish politicians who signed the appeal: John Brady (SF), Matt Carthy (SF), Joan Collins (IND), Gerard P Craughwell (IND), David Cullinane (SF), Mairéad Farrell (SF), Gary Gannon (SD), Seán Haughey (FF), Alice-Mary Higgins (IND), Neasa Hourigan (GP), Vincent P. Martin (GP), Paul Murphy (PBP), Cian O'Callaghan (SD), Marc Ó Cathasaigh (GP). 
  • For supporting quotes from MEPs and endorsing organisations, see here
  • The joint appeal (signed by 388 MPs and MEPs) can be found here.
  • For questions and further information about the joint appeal, please contact Jaume Vidal (jaume@haiweb.org) and Alex Lawrence (alex@haiweb.org
     
  • In October 2020, South Africa and India submitted a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to temporarily waive certain intellectual property (IP) rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until widespread vaccination is in place globally. Since then, and despite the growing support for the initiative, the discussions have not gone beyond the exchange of clarifications and additional explanations. This is due to the opposition of a handful of countries, most notably the EU and its Member States, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, among others. 
  • It is evident that there are insufficient vaccine doses because of limited manufacturing capabilities and other challenges to the supply chain. Traditional voluntary mechanisms will not and cannot deliver the scale-up of production and technology transfer needed to respond to this challenge. Initiatives like the COVAX facility depend heavily on pledges and commitments that have yet to materialise, and in any case would be insufficient to provide the level of coverage needed to bring a timely end to the pandemic. As the Director General of the World Health Organisation has said, we face the risk of a “catastrophic moral failure”.

  

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