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Women who work in informal economy

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Women who work in Pakistan’s informal economy have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. And the majority of Pakistani women work in this sector, where they already face lower income, longer working hours, erratic benefits coverage, job insecurity, and social safeguards.
Almost all of them were compelled to stay at home due to non-essential job shutdowns, and many of them were not paid for their time off. Many workers have had to accept even lower incomes and fewer work hours when these sectors began opening up, if they hadn’t already been laid off permanently. A large number of people have been forced to take employment that are less desirable.
Many households have had to borrow extensively over the last few months, despite their best efforts to minimise expenses as much as possible. This debt will have an impact not just on future purchasing patterns, but also on the survival rate of micro-businesses. Over the last six months, their cash flows have been disrupted, and their working capital has been depleted, while many of these businesses have taken on debt to stay afloat. Their capacity to relaunch and sustain their firms has been severely harmed.
The effects began even before the official lockdowns, when knowledge of the pandemic dampened demand for a variety of services. Businesses and income-generating prospects were nearly completely interrupted by the lockdowns. However, even after most of the lockdown restrictions were released, business has been slow to recover, resulting in fewer need for personnel. For persons with little or no savings, the volatility in income can only be smoothed out by reducing spending or borrowing.
While the economic consequences of the epidemic are enormous, they are only one part of the storey.
The poor, on the other hand, have restricted borrowing capacity. Many ladies said they took out all of their available credit. The rest had to come from cost-cutting and coping: many people went into default on energy bills and/or postponed rental payments, and they cut back on all expenses, including education and health care.
While the economic consequences are enormous, they are only half of the picture. At home, the majority of women said they had more obligations and time commitments. Women are disproportionately burdened with household chores and child care for elderly relatives. While COVID-19 raised financial strains, it also hampered these women’s ability to leave their households and seek out meaningful work outside the home.
Domestic violence and abuse have become more common, causing concern both locally and internationally. Domestic abuse and violence against women and children have increased significantly, according to our poll. Reduced income and financial troubles, inability to leave the household, lack of access to support mechanisms, and being imprisoned up in small quarters (the number of persons per household in Pakistan is significant; most women reported having six to seven additional members in theirs) all add to the stresses. Women, the elderly, and children are all at risk. Strong policy solutions in this area are desperately needed, especially in terms of identification, reporting, and support.
Given their household debt, reduced income over this period, and uncertain job and income prospects over the next six months to a year, many women also stated that they have not only been unable to provide proper support to their children through home-schooling, tutoring, and/or online learning opportunities (even if available), but that they may not be able to do so in the coming year as well. Some parents claimed they were unable to send their children back to school because they had not paid their school fees. The girl child may be affected differently and more severely as a result of this.
Ehsaas payments did not reach them, and the majority believed they were intended for impoverished households. Those who attempted to apply were unsuccessful owing to a lack of knowledge of the process or a lack of required papers. Micro-businesses were also denied assistance. And, in this scenario, the majority of micro entrepreneurs were unaware of any financial assistance programmes.
The responses revealed that the government lacked information about many women and their households, lacked the ability to reach them, lacked the outreach to share relevant information, and lacked any programmes that could be targeted at specific groups (Ehsaas was focused on the very poor, not low- to medium-income groups). In future, more work will be needed to make social protection and risk-mitigation policies more robust, complex, and comprehensive.
For women working in the informal sector, COVID-19 has had a large and detrimental impact on a number of characteristics. Workers in the informal sector get lower wages, work in inferior circumstances, and have fewer rights to begin with. Women in this industry are subjected to considerably greater gender-specific risks. And now COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem.
Increased debt, unemployment, lower pay, shortened working hours, poorer health and education spending, and increased vulnerability to abuse and violence are just a few of the repercussions. Opening up hasn’t solved all of these problems, and some will linger for a long time. Government policies for these sectors, as well as for informal workers in general, have been woefully inadequate, and they will need to be significantly improved in the future.