W7-FES BLOG | “Transforming an Invisible Female Army; Rebuilding Women’s Economic Power “

26 April 2022 |

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on the economy worldwide, particularly affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. This global health crisis has reduced the number of women in the workforce while increasing the proportion of women doing unpaid care work, creating an invisible female army on which many governments now rely. In order to create a gender- just, inclusive and gender transformative way forward, this invisible army must be given recognition and visibility.

Activist and W7 Advisor Pat Black fights for more visibility of vulnerable and marginalized groups, as they are most affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.  A new FES W7 blog post. Please read the full blog article on the FES blog page.

An invisible army of female conscripts?

Like many hundreds of women, I am part of a growing invisible army of unpaid carers and volunteers underpinning our countries’ economies. Before the pandemic, increasing numbers of women were taking on these roles; COVID-19 has ensured that this conscript army continues to grow, diminishing women’s economic power across all G7 nations. Over and above the blow to women’s economic status through the pandemic-induced loss of jobs across many sectors of the economy, such as tourism and hospitality, reliance on women as unpaid carers and educators has increased as schools have closed.

Women were already fulfilling roles as unpaid carers

  • for families, babies and young children
  • for disabled relatives
  • as nurses for partners and relatives in poor health
  • as companions and nurses for elderly and frail parents
  • for older neighbours with no family nearby

Women’s care work goes unpaid

Many of these women come from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our communities.  They often live in poverty as they are unable to work and may have health problems, including mental health issues sparked by stressful situations with no support. This women’s army receives little or no financial recompense; its labour is viewed as free. In some countries a small social welfare benefit is paid to assist carers, but by no means compensates for the 24-hour care provided. How many governments acknowledge this massive contribution that supports their economies? Imagine your local communities if this army were not ensuring care for all these groups. Who would mind? Who would take their place? During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have seen increased financial costs for health services, combined with reduced tax revenues.  Governments had to borrow to provide support to the general public and businesses, thus increasing national debt levels. However, as much of women’s labour goes unpaid, the true cost of public services in the social, welfare, and health sectors is disguised.

Volunteers in the invisible female army

Countries rely on contributions from civil society organisations, particularly women’s organisations, in supporting those most vulnerable, especially women and girls.  These groups provide direct or financial support to clinics, schools, training and skills centres, refuges and hostels. Volunteer women’s organisations provide extensive opportunities for women’s economic empowerment, as evidenced by studies carried out by non-governmental organisations in examples of successful grassroots projects presented … READ MORE