Less food, more work: pandemic hit poor women the hardest, says study

Dalberg research finds women from low-income sections were first to lose jobs and last to regain them due to COVID disruptions

About 10% of the women surveyed said they either ran out of food or ended up eating less as COVID impacted household incomes.

While the pandemic was tough on the nation’s poor, the women from the low-income section were dealt a harder blow, research has revealed. As a cash crunch hit household expenses, women’s nutrition, health and employment were the worst hit and the last to recover.

A study by consulting firm Dalberg — conducted between March and October 2020 —revealed that poorer women in India lost jobs more often than men during the pandemic. Also, they ate more frugally, rested less, and provided more care work that went unpaid.

Quoting the study, a Bloomberg report said that following the first wave of COVID last year, women from poorer sections who lost their jobs took longer to re-enter the workforce.

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Tough days

About 10% of the women surveyed said they either ran out of food or ended up eating less as COVID impacted household incomes. Around 16% had limited or zero access to menstrual pads. Over 33% of married women among the respondents couldn’t access contraceptives since public health schemes were disrupted, the study found out.

To alleviate the problem, the report mooted expansion and ‘enlistment drives’ in rural job guarantee schemes for women. It also suggested bundling menstrual pads with the government’s free food distribution scheme.

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“What we’re hearing from grassroots organisations is that the second wave has compounded the effects that we were seeing in the first wave in multiple ways,” Bloomberg quote Swetha Totapally, a report author and partner with Dalberg Advisors, as saying.

Long-term impact

When women lose jobs, it pushes their families further into debt and poverty, she pointed out. Also, it results in girls dropping out of school and an increased incidence of child marriages, she added.

The Dalberg study surveyed about 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households in the country. It found out that women accounted for about 24% of those working pre-pandemic, but 28% of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. They are also nearly half — 43% — of those surveyed were yet to be employed again.

Amid the pandemic, 47% of women found themselves doing more chores, against 43% of men. Also, against 18% men, 27% women said they rested less during the crisis period.

Among the women, Muslims, migrants, single, separated and divorced women were some of the worst affected.

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