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Unequal Crisis: COVID-19 Could Roll Back Women’s Economic Progress

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only devastated the lives of many across the world but particularly affected the women in many ways. In a recent blog post “The COVID-19 Gender Gap” published on July 21, 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to widen the gender gap. In the post, the IMF has observed that,

“The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to roll back gains in women’s economic opportunities, widening gender gaps that persist despite 30 years of progress.”

COVID-19’s Disproportionate Effects On Women And Their Economic Status:

In the post, the IMF has identified 4 reasons for the disproportionate effects on the women and their economic status due to the COVID-19. They are as follows:

  1. Loss of jobs in the social sectors:

Newly adopted policies like social distancing and mitigation measures are in place in the social sectors, such as the services industries, retail, tourism and hospitality etc. These are hard hit by COVID-19 to layoff the workers or shut down the business, where women make majority of the employees.

Example: In the USA during April to June, 2020, the unemployment among the women in services sectors was 2 percentage points higher than the men. Also, around 54% women working in this sectors cannot telework due to the nature of their jobs. In Brazil, it is recorded at 67%. In low income countries, only 12% are able to work remotely.


Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF) *Note: Due to the IMF’s typo error of “Upple” Middle in the bar graph categorization, it is requested to be read as “Upper” Middle.
  1. Loss of jobs in the informal sector:

The livelihoods of informal workers and especially the women workers, who work with low payments and no labor law protections in place, constitute a majority of them as workforce in the low-income countries, are greatly affected by the crisis with no benefits of pension or health insurance at all; therefore, increasing the threat of poverty due to the fallout from the economic opportunities.

Example: Women’s poverty in Columbia has increased by 3.3% due to the shutdown in the economic activities. Further, the UN estimates that the number of people living in poverty in Latin America and Caribbean will increase by 15.9 million; therefore, bringing the total number of people to 214 million with many being the women and girls.

Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  1. Unpaid house hold work:

Women tend to do more unpaid household work than men (about 2.7 hours per day more). They bear the gender roles of family care responsibilities that have resulted from the lockdowns such as school closures and precautions for vulnerable old aged parents. Even after the shutdown restrictions are lifted, women tend to gain less employment than men.

Example: In May job report, Canada reported that women’s employment has increased by 1.1% compared with 2.4% for men as the child care issues persist for women.

  1. Loss of human capital:

There’s a loss of human capital of women and the girls due to the pandemics. In many developing countries, young girls are forced to drop out from the school to work for the family and thereby supporting household income.

Example: The Malala Fund Report indicates that the share of girls not attending the school nearly tripled in Liberia after the Ebola outbreak, and in Guinea, girls were 25% less likely than boys to enroll in schools. In India, marriages are being arranged before girls complete their education, and thereby, there’s no human capital gain by the women.

Tweet by the IMF on the blog post:

Policy Recommendations:

In further, elaborating the reasons for the gender gap by the COVID-19, the IMF has argued the policy makers to do some of the policy changes to support the women and to reduce/level the gender gap. The policy changes are as follows:

  1. Extending income support to the vulnerable
  2. Preserving the employment linkages
  3. Providing the incentives to balance the work and family care responsibilities
  4. Improving access to health care and family planning
  5. Expanding support for small businesses and the self-employed, and
  6. Eliminating legal barriers against the women’s economic empowerment

Countries Adopted To The Policy Changes During/Post COVID-19:

  • In Austria, Italy, Portugal and Slovenian countries, a statutory right to partially paid leave has been introduced for parents with children below a certain age.
  • In France, the government has expanded sick leave to the parents who are impacted by the school closures (if no alternative care or work arrangements can be found).
  • In Latin America, women leaders have established a coalition to support the women, in an effort to increase the women’s participation in the post-pandemic economic recovery.
  • In Togo, 65% of participants in a new mobile cash-transfer program are women. The program enables informal workers to receive grants of 30% of minimum wage.


In the post, the IMF has urged for immediately effective gender-responsive fiscal policies. By investing in education and infrastructure, subsidizing childcare and offering parental leave, and thereby advocating them as the necessary policies “to promote an inclusive post-COVID-19 recovery”, we can move towards levelling the gender gap.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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