There is a clear urgency for women’s economic recovery. For nearly a year and a half we have watched the COVID-19 virus ravage society on a global scale. People from all walks of life have had to make radical changes in their lives and livelihoods. And like most crises, the pandemic hit the most vulnerable populations the hardest. It has created or aggravated glaring inequalities in our economic, healthcare, and education systems. Along with other marginalized groups, across the world women suffered disproportionately.
Before the pandemic, more women than ever before were attending school and university and serving in leadership roles. For them and women in many other situations, the pandemic has been a devastating setback. For women in developing countries, it will take many, many more months if not years to recover from this setback.
As in countless crises, women have been on the front lines of the pandemic. Women make up the majority of healthcare workers. They also are over-represented in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic such as retail, food service and hospitality. In many of these jobs, women lack employee protections like paid sick leave. Furthermore, businesses in many of these industries could not adapt to strict lockdown measures, often leaving women with the impossible choice of losing their livelihoods or risking their and their families’ health.
In Latin America, women were 50% more likely than men to lose a job in the pandemic’s first months. Dorine Opoka, a FINCA BrightLife client in Uganda, almost lost her solar home system due to the considerable loss of income from the nationwide stay-at-home order. In Haiti, the government-imposed quarantine forced Marie Bazile’s corner store to shut down.
These worrying facts make clear the importance of placing women at the forefront of economic recovery efforts. Their success is essential to our collective recovery. Fortunately success stories already are emerging. A few of these successes show the importance of the type of economic development work that FINCA does.
For instance, while many countries have struggled to deliver aid to informal workers, India transferred pandemic-relief payments to more than 200 million women in need. This massive transfer was made possible by the fact that these women had their own bank accounts. At FINCA we have always recognized the importance of financial inclusion for women and have implemented various measures of our own throughout the pandemic to help women recover economically.
Immediately after the outbreak of the COVID-19, FINCA made a switch to digital communication channels, implemented health and safety measures at our branches to maintain a physical presence, and prioritized rapid internal communication to ensure our team was working to respond to the crisis. More recently, FINCA created guidelines that authorized extensions on current loans and waived digital transaction fees. These guidelines allowed Marie Bazile to take out the loan she needed to buy the most in demand goods and ensured that clients could do business while minimizing exposure to the virus. Finally, with the help of FINCA’s supporters and friends, the FINCA Emergency Response Fund allowed Dorine to keep her solar home system turned on, free of charge.
For the women FINCA serves the novel coronavirus and ensuing economic chaos destroyed much. Rebuilding will not be quick or easy. The urgency for women’s economic recovery is clear. But over the years FINCA’s staff has repeatedly witnessed our clients’ perseverance, hard work, and innovation. The women we serve have rallied back from disasters – both natural and man-made – before. FINCA is committed to continuing to support them in whatever way we can so that they can get back to the economic activities that will allow them to continue to be the educators, entrepreneurs and leaders the world needs.