How women bore brunt burden of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions

Saturday July 15 2023

Women working in informal sector demonstrating along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi, Kenya where they demanded for the Covid 19 stimulus packages for women on June 15,2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG


Women living and working in informal areas in Kenya and Uganda were disproportionately affected by the restrictions that were enforced during the pandemic, says a report by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).

The report, drawing on several aspects - the pre-pandemic burden of household labour, access to relief mechanisms, access to loans, impact on employment, policies on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health, coping strategies – shows the sudden shift in lifestyle that women had to grapple during the pandemic.

Africa director for ICRW, Evelyne Opondo, said in a statement that the design and rollout of Covid-19 economic recovery and social protection policy responses did not directly target workers in the informal sector.

Read: Why scaling up actions for women empowerment is inevitable

“While non-governmental organisations played a critical role in implementing social assistance programmes, such as cash transfers targeting women in informal settlements and vulnerable households, the absence of a single comprehensive registry made it difficult for the government to account for the reach of those interventions,” she said.

Far-reaching implications


Even before the pandemic struck, the study shows that most informal sector women workers (IWWs) were in charge of childcare and some of the domestic responsibilities.

“The closure of education institutions led to a high burden for childcare, implying IWWs had to divide their time between business and domestic activities. The particularly high childcare burden during the Covid-19 lockdown further entrenched sociocultural norms and reduced IWWs’ access to paid employment,” revealed the findings.

When public health measures were imposed in the country, a direct repercussion for the informal woman was losing their daily earnings. Owing to their nature of work, they did not have the advantage of securing loans and having extra money to cushion them from the pangs of the pandemic. The report shows that almost seven in 10 women had their earnings drastically reduced compared with the pre-Covid period.

Read: Gig work apps not protecting domestic workers

Resurgence of violence

“Since they were not able to take advantage of the protection schemes that the government enacted in the wake of the pandemic. Many IWWs resorted to reducing expenditures, depleting savings, and selling property for survival,” showed the report.

Most reports have already reiterated the extent of harm caused by sexual and gender-based violence during the pandemic, but this new report sheds more light on what went wrong.

Read: Africa’s women enjoying fraction of legal rights

The media played a big role in sharing such information, but fewer women in informal areas had access to some of the main sources of media such as radio and TV. “The movement restrictions which limited access to these, and other social services.”