Gendered Impact of Covid-19

Women, especially those belonging to the low-income households in India have been weathering the pandemic through unique hardships. The implications of this going forward are complex with several challenges posing as setbacks to their recovery. The "Impact of Covid-19 on women in low-income households in India" report captures the experiences and perspectives of nearly 15,000 women and 2,300 men across ten states, making it one of the most extensive stuides on the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women

Understanding the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic on women belonging to low-income households in India

What were the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on key aspects of the lives of women in low-income households?

  • We estimate that nearly 87 lakh women who were working before the pandemic remained out of work as of October 2020.

  • Women made up just 24% of those working before the pandemic and yet, they accounted for 28% of all those who lost jobs, and 43% of those yet to recover their paid work.

  • A small number of women report continued food deprivation and limited access to menstrual supplies and contraceptives through the pandemic.

    The pandemic has further exacerbated women’s nutritional challenges. More than one in ten (or estimated 3.2 crore) women limited their food intake or ran out of food in the week they were surveyed

    Women’s access to menstrual pads decreased. ~16% of women (estimated 1.7 crore) who used menstrual pads prior to the pandemic had no or limited access to menstrual pads between March and November, primarily because they could no longer afford these items.

    Access to contraceptives fell. More than one in three married women were unable to access contraceptives, primarily due to concerns about health and hygiene.

  • Notably, women did not face sanitation issues. Approximately 4% of women in our sample faced decreased access to toilets at a rate similar as before the pandemic. This was a bright spot as most (92%) women in our sample had access to their own toilets.

  • More women reported an increase in unpaid work and a decrease in rest than men. ~47% of women compared to 43% of men reported an increase in chores and 41% of women compared to 37% of men reported an increase in unpaid care work. At the same time (and perhaps in part because of the increase in unpaid work) far fewer women than men (16 percentage points (pp) reported an increase in rest during the pandemic.

  • More women from historically marginalized groups were affected in the areas we studied. Women from lower-income households, Muslim as well as migrant women, and single separated/divorced women were among the hardest hit.

  • Lastly, rural women did not experience anywhere near the same level of job recovery as rural men. Rural men in our study were both less likely to lose their paid work and the fastest to recover; however, rural women seemed to lag rural men in the recovery (32% rural men lost paid work during the peak of the crisis compared to 41% of rural women) and only 4% are yet to recover (vs 11% of rural women).

To what extent did government programs reach and help mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic among women from low-income households?

  • Respondents said that government welfare scheme and Self-Help Groups (SHG) were important in helping them navigate the pandemic. About one in three women considered the government’s support most crucial in weathering the crisis (this was at par with perceived support from family).

  • Specifically, MGNREGA, Jan Dhan, and PDS supported 12 M, 100 M, and 180 M (1.2 crore, 10 crore, and 18 crore) women respectively during the crisis.

    These rails had strong coverage and focused on women most in need (though there remains room for improvement).

    MGNREGA has been particularly beneficial for women, highlighting the importance of designing welfare schemes that focus on women.

    The SHGs network also continued to serve as a reliable borrowing channel for both its members and women in the community.