Improving Women’s Economic Status Needs To Be Part The Post-Pandemic Rebuild
Strengthening the economic status of women across the Caspian region should be one of the core actions countries take in reopening and rebuilding following the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, societies generally have not done enough to enable women to play a full role in their economies. One of the American speakers in the Caspian Policy Center’s recent webinar on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship in the Caspian Region cited a particularly shocking statistic. Charity Wallace of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC) flagged a McKinsey Global Institute study that found eliminating gender disparities in employment, wages, and access to credit could add $12 to $28 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2025. Biltana Radonjic Ker-Lindsay of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) offered another illustrative point: today five percent of small and medium enterprises in Turkey have women holding fifty percent or more of the company’s ownership. That figure drops to just two percent when it comes to the large businesses in Turkey.
The COVID-19 pandemic more negatively affects women. Situations certainly vary by country and by sector, however, looking at the global picture, as of May 2020 women suffered 54 percent of the COVID-related job losses while making up 39 percent of total employment world-wide. Studies show the pandemic exacerbates vulnerabilities women had already faced in terms of access to credit as well as in terms of financial hardships and needed healthcare. Women may also face greater problems in terms of loss of remittance income as well as lower earnings with the switch to home-based or greater unpaid care work. Recent research indicates another especially negative impact: when women drop out of the workforce for any length of time, it is harder for them to get back in than it is for men.
Boosting women’s empowerment and enabling them to take on new and greater economic roles have been long-standing focus areas for national governments, international donors, and development institutions. Different governments in the region have programs along these lines. In addition, DFC, through its 2X Initiative, has closed over 100 deals supporting women entrepreneurs since it began in 2018, mobilizing more than $3 billion in capital. The DFC launched a new effort in August 2020 to mobilize a further $6 billion over the next three years. USAID works with governments and organizations in the region to increase women’s ability to get jobs in male-dominated and high growth sectors. For example, it established a program to make regulatory bodies governing utilities more gender sensitive and promote women into leadership positions. The EBRD also helps train women in the region for jobs in the traditionally male-dominated fields of energy, infrastructure, and transportation. It is essential to prepare and otherwise enable women to move into new fields, not just those where they have traditionally dominated, especially as the global economy continues to evolve.
One reality of the COVID pandemic is that it brings into the open problems that existed before the disease hit. At the same time, it affords governments, enterprises, and individuals opportunities to reshape institutions and activities as we look at what we would like to see after COVID. Societies can rebuild and reshape institutions better rather than just aim to go back to the way things were. An example is increasing the economic role of women in Caspian region countries.
Some initial ideas experts from the region, international development banks, and U.S. government development and financial institutions have initially suggested to empower women to build stronger, more productive economies are:
— Recognize the pandemic hits some economic sectors and activities harder than others. The same holds true for different parts of each country’s society. It may be necessary, for example, to give greater support to women’s start-ups in sectors that have traditionally faced greater challenges growing or reviving.
— Distinguish among short-, medium-, and long-term consequences of the pandemic. Doing so will be an important challenge facing governments, societies, companies, and aid donors. Communication, transparency, openness, and coordination among government agencies, the business sector, non-governmental organizations, and academics, will be crucial in finding the way forward towards rebuilding better after the pandemic.
— Make addressing issues facing women part of the overall economic recovery efforts. The economics and finance ministers need to be involved as well as the ministers for women’s issues or social affairs to ensure women figure appropriately in investment and growth strategies.
— Establish special credit lines and a focus on educating women and girls. Moreover, it is important to focus vocational and other training on a broad range of areas and skills, not just those traditionally associated with employing women. Attention to the role of women in the digital economy is also important here.
— Coordinate among governments in the region. As with many other issues, improved engagement among the region’s governments is fundamental to effective recovery and greater growth after the pandemic.
Recovery from the pandemic will not be simply a case of going back to the pre-pandemic status quo. Recovery will depend on a number of factors, including decisions governments and other actors in each country make. Engaging women and others in that process is essential.