Surveys show that COVID-19 has gendered effects in Asia and the Pacific

Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

In April 2020, two weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, UN Women’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) started rolling out rapid assessment surveys to quickly capture its gendered consequences across the region. The surveys have been distributed among millions of people and are showing that women and men are experiencing the effects of the pandemic differently.

UN Women ROAP is conducting the survey in several countries in the region*. Currently, preliminary results for four countries are available: Bangladesh (2,350 total respondents), Maldives (4,754), Pakistan (2,668) and The Philippines (1,887). Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment. The analyses presented here reflect the situation in these four countries and not meant to be generalized for the entire region.

Related story: COVID-19 may be prompting men to help out at home, evidence from the Maldives suggests

 

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Fewer women than men are receiving necessary information to prepare for COVID-19

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, women are less likely to receive information about COVID-19 than men. Differences in cellphone ownership, access to the Internet and educational attainment might be keeping some women away from potentially life-saving information. As women tend to play an important role in promoting hygiene routines within the household and caring for family members, their access to reliable sources of COVID-19 information is particularly essential.   

Proportion of population able to access COVID-19 information, by sex 

 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows: Bangladesh n=2,295; Maldives n=4,730; Pakistan n=2,503; Philippines n=1,880. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting women’s mental and emotional health

Although infection rates and morbidity data show that men are more likely to contract and die from the COVID-19 virus, the emotional impact of the pandemic is disproportionately falling on women’s shoulders in most countries. Increases in unpaid care and domestic work, job and income loss, and the effects of the lockdown on gender-based violence are among the factors that may be contributing to higher rates of stress and anxiety among women. As opposed to all other countries, in Bangladesh slightly more men have reported being affected mentally/emotionally compared to women.

Proportion of people who reported that their mental/emotional health was affected, by sex

 


Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows:
Bangladesh n=2,296; Maldives n=4,730; Pakistan n=2,512; Philippines n=1,883. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

In some countries, women are facing more challenges in accessing medical care

COVID-19 has overwhelmed health systems worldwide, making it harder for people to seek the medical care they need. More than half of the women surveyed in all countries were unable to see a doctor when they needed one. In addition, women in Pakistan and Bangladesh are more likely than men to experience longer wait times to see a doctor. Data also shows that both men and women are finding it difficult to find necessary medical supplies, hygiene products and food. 

 

Proportion of people who could not see a doctor, experienced longer wait times or had difficulties accessing necessary products, by sex

 
 


Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: Responses from selected countries were as follows: Bangladesh n=2,296; Maldives n= 4,730; Pakistan n=2,512; Philippines n=1,883. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

Women are overall less likely than men to be covered by health insurance

Women in Bangladesh and Pakistan are less likely to be covered by health insurance. In the Maldives, where public health insurance is universal, women are less likely to be covered by private top-up insurance. Only in the Philippines does the opposite hold true, with approximately 1 in 3 women (36 per cent) covered by health insurance as opposed to only 1 in 4 men (27 per cent). As many women are engaged in informal employment, job insecurity couples with concerns over inaccessibility of health care when needed, at a time when seeing a doctor promptly may determine survival outcomes.

 

Proportion of people covered by health insurance, by sex

 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows: Bangladesh n= 2,127; Maldives n= 3,348; Pakistan= 2,386; Philippines= 994. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment. Individuals in formal employment are not included in this figure.
Information for the Maldives pertains to the proportion of population covered by “additional” health insurance, as public healthcare is available universally in the country

 

Informal workers are losing their jobs and formal workers are working fewer hours

The spread of COVID-19 is not only a global health pandemic, it is also substantially affecting people’s livelihoods. In Asia-Pacific, where a large share of the population is engaged in informal employment, vulnerability is exacerbated by the lack of social protection. Informal workers are more likely to lose their jobs as a result of economic shocks, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception – their job losses range from 25 to 56 per cent in all three countries. In Bangladesh and the Maldives, women in informal employment are more likely than men to see their working hours reduced, while the opposite is true in Pakistan and the Philippines.

But the pandemic is also affecting formal workers, many of whom are reporting working fewer hours since the spread of COVID-19. Women are seeing large reductions to their working hours in Bangladesh, the Maldives and the Philippines. While the gender gap is 17 percentage points in the Philippines, it stretches to 69 points in Bangladesh, where women in formal employment are almost six times as likely to work fewer hours than their male counterparts since the outbreak of the virus. This is concerning, as women were already more likely to earn less than their partners in all countries surveyed. 


Proportion of people who worked fewer hours or lost their job since the spread of COVID-19, by sex and informality

 
 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020)
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows: Bangladesh n= 1,128; Maldives n=2,835; Pakistan n= 911; Philippines n= 1,566. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

COVID-19 has increased the burden of unpaid care and domestic work

As a result of the lockdown and the spread of the virus, household chores, watching the children and caring for the elderly and sick are taking up more of people’s time. Although both women and men are facing some of these burdens, women are substantially more likely to perform many of the unpaid care and domestic tasks. Cleaning, cooking and serving meals, in particular, appear to almost exclusively be women’s responsibilities in all countries surveyed. Unpaid care work responsibilities are distributed a little more evenly, with women typically more likely to be in charge of the physical care of the children and men more likely to provide teaching and administrative support.

Data from the rapid assessment surveys also shows that, in all countries, women are more likely to see increases in both unpaid domestic and unpaid care work since the spread of COVID-19. In addition, they are also more likely than men to say they are in charge of performing all three activities: unpaid childcare, unpaid adult care and unpaid domestic work. On the contrary, men tend to concentrate on fewer tasks, like shopping for the household and playing with children.

 

Proportion of people whose time on unpaid care and domestic work increased since the spread of COVID-19

 
 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: The graph shows the proportion of people who reported increases in at least one of the activities that conform unpaid care work or unpaid domestic work, respectively. Responses from countries were as follows: Bangladesh n= 2,296; Maldives n=4,730; Pakistan n= 2,512; Philippines= 1,883. In the graph, increases in unpaid care work include both unpaid childcare care and unpaid adult care. The size reflects the proportion of people who do both unpaid domestic work and unpaid care work (childcare and care of adults/elderly/sick). Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

The pandemic, however, has shown signs of hope in terms of redistribution of household chores, with men and boys helping more at home since the spread of COVID-19. More than half of women surveyed in all countries noted that their partners help them more at home, while 35 to 80 per cent (depending on the country) also noted that their sons help more than before. Women and girls, however, are still providing more help at home.

 

Proportion of people who noted increases in help with household chores and unpaid care for family members, by sex

 

 
 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020)
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows: Bangladesh n= 2,296; Maldives n=4,730; Pakistan n= 2,512; Philippines n= 1,883. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment.

 

As a result of COVID-19, women’s resources are being hit hardest

One of the key concerns among economists and policymakers is that the pandemic might trigger an economic crisis of immense proportions, overturning the gains on poverty-reduction that Asia-Pacific fought so hard to achieve in the last decades. Data show that both women and men are experiencing changes in the availability of household resources, but not equally across all three countries. Incomes from family businesses, from own farming or fishing, from a paid job and from remittances are seeing the biggest cuts, and women are being more affected in all four categories. In addition, women are also more likely to report drops in income from investments or savings and financial support from family and friends. Since the spread of COVID-19, some people are turning to charity and government support. Here, again, women are at a disadvantage, as men are reporting larger increases of these two sources of income. 

 

Proportion of resource-users who noted increases/decreases since the spread of COVID-19, by sex

 
 

Source: UN Women Rapid Assessment Survey on the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s economic empowerment (23 April 2020).
Notes: Responses from countries were as follows: In Bangladesh n= 2,296; Maldives n=4,730; Pakistan n= 2,512; Philippines n= 1,883. Weights were applied to adjust for age, sex and educational attainment. The graph only displays increases/decreases in household resources among people who said they ever use such resources. Therefore, the changes in some resources, such as charity and government support, might appear relatively larger than they are.

 

COVID-19 and gender equality: what is next?

As the pandemic continues to evolve at a different pace across the Asia-Pacific region, it will be important to continue monitoring how health risks, household responsibilities and job vulnerability affect women and men differently. Many other issues not captured in these surveys are also likely to be impacting the lives of women and girls during this difficult time, from heightened exposure to domestic violence, to unequal nutritional patterns and increased safety concerns outside the household. UN Women, through the various data-collection and analysis efforts that fall under the Women Count umbrella, will continue measuring some of these challenges. COVID-19, however, also offers an opportunity to use these data to examine existing inequalities and unfair social roles and build a post-pandemic society that offers more equal opportunities and gives women a better chance to shape a sustainable world for all. 

 

* Countries covered in the survey include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Samoa and Thailand.
** The surveys were conducted in collaboration with the following mobile network operators and partners: Cambodia’s National Institute of Statistics, Dhiraagu, Total Access Communication Public Company Limited, the International Rescue Committee, Jazz Telecom, Maldives National Bureau of Statistics, Ncell Private Limited, Nepal’s Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Ooredoo, Philippine Statistical Authority, Robi Axiata, Samoa’s Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Smart Axiata, Viber.


 

Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

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