Low income earners affected most by COVID-19

Low income earners affected most by COVID-19

Date: May 25, 2020
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By Perpetual Sichikwenkwe,

Lusaka, 25 May: The government of Zambia like many other governments in the world is taking measures to prevent, detect and to ensure that the risk of the spread of COVID-19 is averted this includes stay at home measures.

Women in Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) Executive Director, Maureen Samulela Tresha says the outbreak of COVID 19 has led to reduction of work output. For her organisation, work involves going out in the field, holding workshops, training paralegals and more. All this cannot be done because it involves bringing together of people in one place. This will affect not only service delivery but also project implementation as well.

The Ministry of Labour has instructed employers to allow people to work from home while others have been placed on forced leave. Tresha states that while children are excited about their mother being home, this is affecting work output.  Women are not able to concentrate on work, as they have to attend to the attention demands of their children and spouses as well as domestic chores as domestic workers coming from epic communities have been asked to go on leave. She states that staying at home has affected financial flow in the home. Women even those in formal employment are also engaged in side income generation such as part time jobs but are unable to engage in such because of the COVID-19.

Tresha further explains that the ‘stay home’ measure has also increased expenditure in homes in  terms of groceries, food as people end up consuming more food and there is increased usage of things when they are home most of the time. She says there is also the unplanned expenditure for masks, hand sanitizer as well as other necessities associated with COVID-19 prevention measures.

The strain on finance and restriction on movement has for most women had negative impact as they are unable to move about for example work freely in areas where they make money.

According to the Zambia Central Statistical Office (CSO) 2019 Labour Force Survey, at least 412 215 more women are employed in the informal sector; compared to 350 066 in the formal sector, and 351,380 in the household sector. Women in the country also get on average less monthly earnings than men.

Tresha says since business for most women in the informal sector is hand to mouth it is difficult for them to provide for their families because they were not working to their full potential. In addition, most people have become very selective with places to shop from in this period due to COVID-19. The effect of this is that the income for the traders is reducing and some are consuming the capital. Some proprietors have ended up owing employees and property owner’s money. Restaurants (bars etc) employees also have had their salaries cut as business are not making money and most of the employees in these restaurant and bars were women.

As women and men spend most of their time at home and at times with perpetrators, Gender Based Violence cases tended to go up. In Zambia, in the second week of April, the country recorded three gruesome murders resulting from Intimate partner violence (IPV).

Oxfam Zambia Country Director Dailess Judge noted that COVID-19 is bringing unique challenges that have come with household-based work for example loss of income to domestic workers and also possible increase in domestic violence against women.

Women especially the household and informal sector cannot afford to take unpaid time off work, or to stockpile provisions. Most women are among the poorest and they have no choice but to go to work if they want to feed their families, especially if the price of food and other essentials starts to rise.

Fostina Banda 34, a domestic worker in Lusaka’s Chalala area says she was lucky that her employer has not asked her to stay away from her job as a house-helper but she knows her friends in Chawama Township of Lusaka who have been forced to stop work and this has brought about financial challenges. Esther Mwanza a 22 year old house helper who was asked by her boss to stop going to work and was placed on half pay said life has not been the same since the crisis started.. She said since she was put on half salaries she has been unable to provide for his family the way she used to.

The agony of the effects of COVID- 19 is that, the ‘new normal’ will adversely affect women’s lives even after the pandemic is averted. The likely-hood of the domestic workers on forced leave or part-time work getting back their full time work is slime. Similarly, women who have suspended trading may consume all their capital and lose their trading places and customers. The economic impact of COVID- 19 will continue to devastate women’s lives for  many years to come.

Furthermore, most women have limited or no access to information especially when they locked up in their homes. Due to load shedding, the women who are locked up in their homes have limited access to television, radio and even social media information on the COVID-19

A newspaper vendor, Brenda Mulenga working at the Times of Zambia newspaper in said the COVID-19 has caused her business to dwindle as they are not many people on the street to buy newspaper. Mulenga said people were scared of the disease as such they were hiding to the directive of staying home thus killing our business as they are no people to buy the newspaper. She said this has resulted in her family facing financial challenges as she could not afford most of the necessities for the family.

Oxfam anticipates that, the burden of unpaid care work on women and girls will be exacerbated with the pressure of care falling disproportionately to women. The situation would likely result in increased GBV and protection risks, including domestic violence and negative coping up mechanisms.

Regina Musa a marriage counselor in Kalingalinga has observed that the measure of directing both men and women to ‘stay home’ has potential to result in unwanted pregnancies with effects of having unplanned children and unsafe abortions were likely to go up. This is as a result of increased time of spouses spending time together. According to Marie Stopes International, the  increasingly uncertainty of COVID 19, would affect the organization’s  ability to continue to serving some of the world’s most marginalized women with reproductive health services. The organization is urging national governments to define contraception and safe abortion services as essential during the crisis. If not, the consequences would be devastating. Unless action is taken now, it is estimated that up to 9.5 million vulnerable women and girls risk losing access to our contraception and safe abortion services in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge noted that, Oxfam suggests among other solutions for the Zambian Government and cooperating partners to ensure that the most vulnerable women, girls, men and boys have timely access to reliable information and resources needed to protect themselves and reduce risk of infection of the virus.  She further suggests that an incentive and relief measure to businesses which are dominated by women in order to address the differential impacts the pandemic has on men and women be established.

COVID- 19 is unprecedented and it would take time for the impact and effects to be established as countries are still learning on how to deal with it or to go by the “new normal”. Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learnt but whatever was done to mitigate the impact, the Zambian Government should focus on the already existing gender needs and impact divide and pay attention to the specific gender needs of women who were likely to be impacted by the pandemic due to their gender dimensions.

Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a journalist from Zambia. This story is part of the GL News Service Gender and COVID news series.

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