A Profound Fragility: Why we cannot afford for women entrepreneurs to lose out in this crisis

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A Profound Fragility: Why we cannot afford for women entrepreneurs to lose out in this crisis

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been living an unprecedented health crisis coupled with a social and economic crisis. The on-going epidemic poses massive risks to the economic system, but will also contribute to widening existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Evidence from the aftermath of past crises suggests that its impact will disproportionately affect women. As the OECD and UN Women have stated, women are significantly more at risk to suffer from material hardship, unemployment and underemployment, that will result from the COVID-19 crisis.  Research based on the last economic crisis has shown that the economic crisis can have a continuing negative impact on female participation in the labour market.  According to the ILO, “economic recessions have placed a disproportionate burden on women. Women are more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs, to be under-employed or without a job, to lack social protection, and to have limited access to and control over economic and financial resources.” 

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As we respond to the crisis we need to focus on specific measures to ensure women’s continued integration in the economy. Women are likely to emerge from this crisis more vulnerable in economic terms, given that they have lower wages and savings; engage in more part-time work; and key sectors in which they represent a significant portion of the workforce such as hospitality, tourism and retail are facing steep declines in their overall activity. Many women also feel the additional burden of unpaid care, for some combined with the pressure of remote working, home schooling and heightened financial distress.  According to the OECD, globally, women spend three times longer on unpaid care work than men, ranging from 1.5 times longer in North American countries to 6.7 times longer in South Asian countries  We can only imagine how much this has risen during the period of confinement and its long-term impact on women’s careers.

We must intervene quickly to help women across all sectors of the economy, including by helping women entrepreneurs preserve their businesses and ensure their continued access to new opportunities.

The profound fragility that women are experiencing in times of crisis is dangerous, both economically and from a human rights perspective. We must intervene quickly to help women across all sectors of the economy, including by helping women entrepreneurs preserve their businesses and ensure their continued access to new opportunities.

I urge policy makers to adopt a gender lens to address the specific issues women face in this economic downturn and design solutions that support women specifically.

Read the OECD's policy response: "Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19"

While policy makers can make a huge difference in how women emerge out of this crisis, there are also powerful initiatives that leverage community, resources and technology. All of us can make that happen. Led By HER has been activating its community and networks to support women entrepreneurs in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Together with Capgemini, we launched FoundHERLab, a digital platform to allow women entrepreneurs to connect with volunteer experts that can help them advance on their projects, answer questions and better prepare to face current and future difficulties. We have been mobilising individuals who benefit from increased flexibility and companies that have put in place policies for employees to donate time and skills to help women entrepreneurs. We are hoping that through our platforms we can build local communities of support for women entrepreneurs worldwide, and that these skills will contribute to preserving and consolidating women’s businesses during the crisis and beyond.

We should be heavily investing today in making sure that we all emerge out of this crisis equally. What happens if we lose women entrepreneurs? Their households will suffer, the people they employ will suffer and we will have even more women in economically fragile positions. 

More from the Forum Network: "Impact Entrepreneurs: Building solutions for a post-COVID-19 world" by Tatiana Glad

Policy makers, companies, civil society organisations, communities and individuals must join forces to ensure that women do not lose their rights, well-being and opportunity in life. The COVID-19 crisis calls on us to not be complacent and to shed greater light on women’s futures. We will only be stronger and more resilient as a society if we take this seriously.

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