Covid-19 to exacerbate gender wage gap in least developed countries

LDCs are a group of 46 nations with more than 1 billion population that are heavily reliant on few exports for revenue

Women displaced by the fighting in Bor county hug each other in the port in Minkaman, in Awerial county, Lakes state, in South Sudan, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu (SOUTH SUDAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT) FOR BEST QUALITY IMAGE ALSO SEE: GM1EA9I1BRX01

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate gender income inequality and overall wellbeing of women in least-developed countries, as their economies struggle to stage a recovery, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) said in a joint report.

"We had a long way to go to fix the world’s gender gap, and the pandemic has made the journey even more arduous, especially in the world’s poorest countries, where the challenges facing women are even more dire," said Ratnakar Adhikari, head of the EIF.

“But if we’re committed to transforming the lives of women across the globe, we have to start with the least developed countries," he added.

Least developed countries, also known as LDCs are a group of 46 nations with more than 1 billion population that are heavily reliant on few exports for revenue.

Export-focused industries also have a significant female workforce, however, their participation is precarious and reliant on the various vagaries of the global trade system and markets.

LDCs in Africa derive their source of income from agricultural goods and minerals. Asian LDCs on the other hand are reliant on textile exports as well as tourism services, in the case of small islands.

While the LDCs have largely escaped the brunt of a mass health crisis, their populations, which are very reliant on global trade, export and exchange have been severely impacted. An estimated 32 million people were pushed into extreme poverty last year, according to UNCTAD.

Women who work in tourism, horticulture and textile industries have been the hardest by the pandemic, according to the study.

As the global economy slowly revives after months of intense lockdowns and mobility restrictions, UNCTAD and EIF warn that women will benefit less than men due to the different roles played by each gender across various sectors.

For instance, women in LDCs account for up to 45 per cent of all employment in agriculture. However, gender segregation restricts them in subsistence farming due to the traditional roles as providers of food security to families.

“This means that women working in agriculture in LDCs earn less than men and are less able to take advantage of export opportunities,” said Simonetta Zarrilli, head of UNCTAD’s trade, gender, and development programme.

Gender value chain analyses in key agricultural export sectors in order to identify gender gaps and formulate policies targeting barriers facing women are needed to encourage their continued productive participation in the workforce.

The report also cited revisions to customary laws that prevent women from owning land and property that would help them accessing credit.

"Solutions may include policies to boost women’s participation in extension services as well as targeted loan programmes for women in key export sectors," the study noted.