Women in Latin America are more at risk than men of losing their jobs and not returning to work due to the coronavirus crisis, experts said on Tuesday, calling on governments to adopt measures to assist women in low-paid jobs.
Women dominate the low-paid and informal sectors hardest hit by weeks of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, with massive job losses as the pandemic rages through Latin America, experts said in a webinar hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.
Latin America has emerged as the new epicentre of the coronavirus where the disease is spreading quickly, claiming the lives of more than 31,000 people and infecting nearly 570,000.
“What we know is that women are over-represented in high-risk sectors such as retail, restaurants, and hotels. Which are especially vulnerable to social distancing measures and prevents the continuation of their work,” said Claudia Piras, lead social development economist at the Inter-American Development Bank.
In the United States, 60% of jobs losses linked to the pandemic have been among women, while in Spain women account for 57% of people filing for unemployment claims, Piras said. There is no comparable data for Latin America, she said.
“Based on what we know, I feel pretty confident to say that the crisis will exacerbate the gender gaps already present in Latin America, placing women in a more vulnerable situation,” she said.
About 126 million women in Latin America work in the informal economy, often as domestic workers, cleaners or street vendors, according to the United Nations.
In Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru, eight out of 10 women hold informal jobs, said Karina Batthyany, head of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences, a network of research institutes.
They have “no type of social security coverage or protection provided by labour legislation,” she said.
Among the most vulnerable have been the region’s millions of domestic workers, who have little job security and are often not paid basic minimum salaries or when sick, according to Adriana Quinones, country representative for UN Women in Guatemala.
During the pandemic, they have typically gotten fired or been asked to work unpaid overtime, Quinones said.
Also in Latin America, about 70% of unpaid care work at home is done by women and girls, and this burden has increased during the lockdowns, experts said.
With that added responsibility and the need to look after children at home because of school closures, many will find it particularly hard to return to the paid workforce, experts said.
Governments need to introduce measures to make sure “women are not left behind” during the pandemic such as cash payments for women and single mothers in low-paid or informal jobs, said Piras.
“The perspectives are pretty bleak for low-income women,” said Piras.
“Unless governments take much more decisive action and go beyond the rhetoric and really put forward policies targeting these particular groups of women, who were already in very bad circumstances, we are going to see a pretty bad backlash.”