29 June 2022 |
COVID-19’s impact has left out the most vulnerable and marginalised women particularly in rural areas exacerbating their invisibility and widening financial-digital disparities. Governmental responses to the pandemic have relied heavily on digital resources that excluded marginalised women, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Financial inequalities have also increased, pushing women into extreme poverty and marginalisation. To address this, a holistic social protection approach is vital, nationally and locally levels, aimed specifically at women in all their diversity.
W7 Advisor Lemona Chanda is an award-winning gender equity and development activist working towards women’s economic empowerment with a focus on land and property rights, financial and digital inclusion. Please read the full blog article on the FES blog page.
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a severe global crisis with lockdowns to control virus transmission. Implementation of such measures in various countries had significant impacts for vulnerable and marginalised groups, especially women. Some noteworthy changes can be seen in women’s livelihoods, access to healthcare and in increasing financial-digital disparities and in rising domestic violence that usually targets women. Overall, the pandemic has widened the gender divide, with the most visible socio-economic impact on women from low-middle income (LMI) countries. In the light of these growing inequalities, it is crucial to highlight the many women, especially in rural areas, left out due to financial-digital disparities and also excluded from most of the research examining COVID-19’s impact.
Impact of COVID-19 on Women
Evidence suggests that marginalised women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes higher risk, as women are more likely to work as front-line health workers and caregivers, socio-economic degradation, increased domestic violence, lack of access to healthcare, barriers to mobility for women that affect their earning capabilities, loss of livelihood, and accumulation of debt. This further manifests in food insecurity for women and their families including children, loss of access to appropriate resources for survival including education, healthcare, employment or business opportunities. The pandemic has forced women, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, to take drastic financial decisions to support their own survival and their families, leading to destitution and aggravating vulnerabilities.
COVID-19 and Widening of the Digital Divide
While technological advances continued to spread during the pandemic, the widening of the digital divide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been neglected. This divide has been worsened by the way governments have implemented measures. Examples include governments cash transfers through existing or new digital platforms. For instance, Bangladesh distributed $11.9 billion and India distributed $260 billion as cash transfers. Women with no access to the platforms or lacking digital literacy either struggled or could not access the cash transfers at all. Exacerbating this, in LMI countries women are less likely to own a mobile phone, a smartphone or have internet access.
In many countries, such as the UK, COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation for people facing multiple inequalities e.g. low income, precarious employment, poor health, and poverty. They were adversely impacted when information sharing and services moved online when they had no access to their support network. Less than 50% of those who needed computer access to for home schooling had the requisite hardware. In rural areas, the scenario triggered by the crisis is more alarming. Many people there have been excluded from adequate digital access, often due to poor internet speed in rural areas; this caused difficulties for students trying to accessing education and families needing accessing for essential needs. This group disproportionally includes women, who remain the unreachables that countries de facto failed to include. While this striking disparity predates the COVID-19 pandemic, those affected continue to suffer from the widening digital divide due to increasing reliance on technology and rampant use of digital systems and devices. During the pandemic, digital disparities fed into and intensified this vulnerable population segment’s invisibility.