Covid-19 has left millions of women worse-off

A crisis reveals women’s vulnerability as the impact of financial and mental stress is unmistakable. This was the case with the last financial crisis of 2008, but it is also becoming clear from the current crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In July and August 2021, AXA teamed up with research firm Ipsos to survey 8,000 women from different social backgrounds in eight countries: France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Thailand and the UK. The research showed how the Covid-19 crisis has affected women financially and mentally. The survey also revealed how women feel about the future and how well protected they feel against potential future risks.

An economic and mental crisis leading to a sense of vulnerability

The results of the survey show that Covid-19 has left millions of women worse-off, with less financial security than before. They are more dependent on others, and struggle to combine work and home life. Covid-19 isn’t just a health crisis. For women, it’s also an economic and mental crisis leading to a sense of vulnerability.

Economic crisis

Women tend to work in sectors hard hit by the pandemic, such as accommodation and retail. Job loss was a harsh reality for many women. The job-loss figure has gone up to 21% for young women (between 18 and 29 years of age) and it’s also higher for women with children, as well as for those in developing economies. As a result, nearly half of the women surveyed – 47% – admitted they had to dip into savings because of the crisis. One in five had to turn to their families for financial help.

On top of that, women suffer from ingrained inequalities that put them at a disadvantage. Internet use, for example, is 11% lower among women than it is among men. This makes a significant difference at a time when digital skills are essential as more businesses switch to online operations because of Covid-19.

Mental crisis

From the survey, it’s also clear that the pandemic has added to women’s mental burden. Because of Covid-19, women are having to devote more time to housework, arranging childcare, or managing their families’ health and finances. Many of the care services and schools women relied on were closed during the pandemic. This resulted in increased stress and fatigue. Second, lockdown measures have reduced access to the care services women rely on. Consequently, they have often had to prioritize family care over work commitments.

Of the women surveyed, 51% rated their mental burden as “high”. That’s up 10 points from before the pandemic.

A sense of vulnerability

As a result, there is an increased sense of vulnerability among women due to the Covid-19 crisis. They worry about their finances, their healthcare, not being able to support their children, or becoming dependent on others. They even worry about falling into poverty. Fifty percent of the women surveyed feel more vulnerable to financial risk. This is understandable in emerging countries because of limited social welfare, but the same feeling prevails in some European countries, where there has been extensive economic and financial support during the crisis.

Future dangers

The longer the crisis lasts, the worse the situation could become as there could be a regression into gender stereotypes. We might see a return of old attitudes in terms of the role we believe women should play in society. In recent years, women have gradually reduced the time they spend on housework and childcare. With the lockdown, however, this started to increase again; women are taking up more of the burden. The risk is that this might become permanent and that the professional gap between men and women could widen again. This could potentially reverse years of progress in gender equality, unless there are actions taken to provide new financial opportunities for women, and to break down economic barriers.

Future potential

The survey shows that women worldwide have been badly affected by Covid-19. But it also becomes clear that women have incredible economic potential. Advancing equality for women – according to the McKinsey Global Institute – would add a staggering $12 trillion to the global economy. In other words – if the conditions for women improve, everybody wins.

So, what can the financial services industry do to help women? Let’s take a look at four action points to improve women’s financial security:

  1. Increase women’s financial security and independence: this can be done by promoting financial education and helping more women build long-term savings of their own. By doing so, women are not dependent financially on other family members.
  2. Offer targeted products: offer, for instance, savings products for younger women just entering the workforce (when they have more savings capacity), or targeted products for women with children to protect them against the risk of job loss or divorce. AXA Partners Credit & Lifestyle Protection solutions can provide a financial safety net for women and their families.
  3. Promote entrepreneurship among women: this can be done through accelerated training in areas such as e-commerce. Moreover, providing financial and business protection for up-and-coming women entrepreneurs creates strong added value. By doing so, women’s access to finance is improved and they get help to expand into international markets.
  4. Provide support services to reduce women’s “mental load”: ease the burden of caring for children, or elderly and sick relatives. AXA Partners Health solutions can certainly help. This would enable more women to remain in the workforce and concentrate on career development.

As for the women themselves? Well, most women are mildly optimistic about the next six months despite the pandemic. There’s a belief in the potential for significant growth and development. It seems women want to take matters into their own hands. Let’s boost their potential by implementing the four action points – worldwide.

On the front line: The global economic impact of Covid-19 on women

AXA surveyed 8,000 women from different social backgrounds in eight countries to understand how the outbreak of Covid-19 was affecting women from an economic perspective.

Read the full survey report

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