A new research has revealed that around 41 per cent women have lost their jobs while the income of 88 per cent women has decreased. Around 44 per cent women can barely sustain their families every month since July 2020, stated the report recently launched by South Asia Economic Policy on COVID-19 and the New Normal for Women in the Economy in Nepal. Jointly conducted by the Himalayan Climate Initiative in partnership with The Asia Foundation, the report was published last month. The report was based on the data received from a sample size of 401 women and 51 private companies in-person and phone-based surveys conducted during July to August 2020. As per the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) 2018, 90.5 per cent of Nepali women in the workforce are in the informal sector. Two-thirds of the women in the above-mentioned research earned less than Rs. 15,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic. About 37 per cent of businesses were thriving before the COVID-18 crisis. The overall economic impacts on the private sector shows that 83 per cent businesses’ profit margin dropped, one-fourth businesses revenue dropped by 80-100 per cent, only 2 per cent businesses saw 80-100 per cent increase in revenue. Grim picture The study largely paints a grim picture of the economic front with a large number of women both in the formal and informal sectors facing pay-cuts. About 37 per cent of businesses imposed a pay-cut on their female employees and laid offs, 5 per cent of businesses imposed 100 per cent pay cut. This is compounded with increased unpaid household work and increasing instances of domestic violence and abuse. The report highlights how the lack of planning has led to a default on the state’s obligations in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, illustrated by the inability to ensure the availability of contraceptives, increased chances of unintended pregnancies, and high maternal mortality, among others. These, along with many other factors, have compounded the impact on mental health of women. The women-exclusive and centralised style of decision-making has worsened the impact on women. The research has documented 624 cases of domestic violence. Also 61 per cent women experienced physical and mental violence, 39 per cent women experienced rape, attempts to rape, deprivation of basic necessities, or socio-economic violence. Around 28 per cent women faced increased household workload, 35 per cent women faced difficulty in juggling income-generating and household works. The research has quoted a case from Sakha 2020 mentioning that in Triyuga Municipality- 12 of Udayapur district, a Dalit woman daily wage worker, who is a mother of two daughters, faced violence from her husband during the lockdown. The Dalit community is one of the worst hit due to the pandemic and the surging discrimination against such marginalised groups has made them more vulnerable, especially for women. An alarming data related to facts of degraded mental health was also observed by the search team. Around 93 per cent women respondents felt some form of fear, 50 per cent felt fed up with life at times, 58 per cent had trouble sleeping. There was also an impact on the reproductive health of women. In Nepal, 56 young mothers died in the first two months of the lockdown, 60,000 women were denied the required medical check-ups, 200 per cent increase in the MMR was observed as compared to last year and 24 per cent to 75 per cent reduction in contraceptives sales happened. With the adverse impacts that the pandemic has had on women, they reflected that their worries included lack of income or job, inability to pay rent, inability to pay loans, food and kids' education, and family member stuck in another place. Although 65 per cent of these women were eligible for government support, only 31 per cent received it. None of the businesses surveyed were aware of the process to receive government support. Also, there was no relief for 40,000 sex workers in Nepal. The small and medium entrepreneurs have been hard-hit, especially as they lack adequate safety nets and are in a position of financial insecurity. Women have been excluded from decision-making processes related to the government's crisis relief/policy measures, which have been very ineffective in reaching the needy. The report quotes the example of a daily wage worker Bhadrakala Sarki from a marginalised low-income household in Dailekh district of Karnali province. She has struggled to get relief from the authorities. She lives with her husband who has been sick for a year and her two sons who are returnee migrant workers. No one in the family is employed, and although the family obtained a package of rice and salt as relief on the 15th day of the lockdown, they have not received any other material since. She eagerly waits to receive at least two meals per day for her family.
Comprehensive study Shilsila Acharya, chief executive officer of the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCCI), said that the time has come to make sure the women who have been hit hard by the pandemic get the appropriate relief package and support to restart their businesses and lives. While there are multiple studies that have looked at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy as a whole or even its sectoral components, a comprehensive study focusing on the disproportionate ways in which this crisis has impacted women in particular, is absent, she said. Meghan Nalbo of The Asia Foundation (TAF) says that women have fared throughout the pandemic very bravely and have confronted all the challenges that came their way. With findings like the research TAF and HCCI has done, it is now important to look at the statistics and pave the way forward to make sure their challenges are recognised, respected and proper support provided for them.
(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights. email@example.com Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)