Op-ed: Bridging the Gender Gap at the Bottom of the Pyramid
By Oluwasoromidayo George
Dabalen and Paci (2020), in their World Bank blog article, estimated that a decline in GDP per capita of 3% would increase the number of Africans living below the international poverty line of $1.90 (2011 PPP) by 13 million. If the downturn is prolonged or becomes even more severe, considerably more than 13 million will become poor. In Nigeria, 79% of respondents in their survey reported income losses, with 42% of those who were previously employed no longer working. Oxfam also estimated that globally, 500 million more people would be thrown into poverty as a result of COVID-19.
While the low number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria continue to perplex experts around the world (who expected the infections and mortality rate, especially in poor communities to be high), the impact on women economically and socially has been devasting. It is assumed that the relatively low numbers are mainly because the country has a young population that is either mostly asymptomatic or has developed a strong immunity attributed to anti-malaria treatments (no scientific reference).
The plight of women and their challenges across several issues remain a focal point of discussion in the development plan. Awareness around these issues has also heightened as the world gets more connected through digital platforms. Women constitute a significant portion of the bottom of the pyramid. The Netherlands Institute of International Relations, in its concept paper on the impact of COVID-19 in the value chain, stated that economic crisis, epidemics, or pandemics could exacerbate gender inequalities and often connotes disproportionate risks on young women.
Georgieva, Fabrizio, Hoon Lim, and Tavares (2020) warned that the pandemic can claw back the achievements in women’s economic development, broadening gender gaps that have persisted despite 30 years of interventions. The authors noted that women were unduly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for several reasons, including women are more likely than men to work in frontline sectors such as services, retail, tourism, and hospitality. Women are also more likely to be employed in the informal sector in low-income countries. These are sectors with no protection from labor law, and no health or no retirement benefits. Women are also caregivers and do more unpaid domestic work than men, about approximately 2.7 hours per day. They care for the elderly within the family and bear the burden of looking after the children as schools close. Finally, the authors noted that pandemics are more likely to put women at a greater risk of losing social capital.
The conversations and actions to bridge the gender gap widened by the pandemic have already started. Participants in a webinar organized by the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the IFC explored different aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on women. The Global Compact Network Nigeria (GCNN) has also put in motion the process of intervening in alleviating poverty within female-headed households in Nigeria. Georgieva et al. (2020) advocated for policies that will reduce the pandemic’s effect on women. These policies, they stated, should cut across both the private and public sectors. Policies which include issues such as paid leave for women who have to bear the burden of attending to children who go to school, online from home or extra sick days for those who take care of the vulnerable. Also, inclusive business strategies and policies that include female-headed organizations in their value chain open up more opportunities for women. These business practices can act as a catalyst for providing the BOP consumers with access to goods and services that can enhance their living standards and alleviate poverty.
The economic disparities brought about by a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic have to be bridged through a multi-pronged approach of sustained empowering interventions. This will support women-owned businesses to withstand the pressure of the volatility and rising uncertainties within the global economy. Empowering women is also crucial for sustained development especially in countries like Nigeria, which has a large youth population. They play a critical part in the psychological and socio-economic development of young persons. Several studies have shown the benefits of having women play critical roles in organizational development. We also need to understand the role that women have traditionally played in values building and nurturing a youthful population for better leadership and more impactful governance structures.
*Oluwasoromidayo George is a non-executive Director at the CSRG Institute where she leads research in the Bottom of the Pyramid strategies.