Women are Taking the Brunt of the Economic Impact of COVID-19

Uniting Voices Worldwide to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2020

A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls

November 24, 2020

Zahra Amanpour, social entrepreneur and founder of Indiegrove and Next Move Strategy in Jersey City, NJ. Her career is dedicated to economic access and equality for women and minority groups. Ms. Amanpour was formerly Executive Director of NYC Business Solutions at the Department of Small Business Services in New York. 

Hello, thank you Women Freedom Forum for organizing this event and thank you Antonia for moderating this amazing panel of people dedicated to the freedom and progress of women. 

As Antonia mentioned, my background is mostly in economic development, specifically entrepreneurship and economic access and opportunity.  Most of my work has focused on women and minorities and the economic and social disparities they face in business and in the workforce. 

Today, I would like to speak to the economic impact of COVID-19 on women both within the United States where I currently live and work and in Iran, since that is where my family is from and the situation there has gotten so bad in general, but especially for women, that it warrants special attention. 

It can certainly be said that women are taking the brunt of the economic impact of COVID-19 in every part of the world.  What we are seeing here in the United States is that women are being forced to make very hard decisions around the safety of their families, education of their children, personal health and the economic well-being of their families.  Many women have had to stop working or take a step back in their careers to manage their children being schooled virtually from home, becoming full time caretakes and having to take on even more in their households.  This is in the context of what was an already unbearable balance for many women, and without any accommodations from employers.  We already know that women taking leave from work for personal reasons leads to an 18%-37% decrease in their overall lifetime earnings (Forbes) and there is no reason to think it will be any different for a COVID related leave.  It will likely be even worse as many jobs are eliminated or replaced with technologies in the new economy. This has put enormous pressure on women and had an impact on their physical and mental health.  Additionally, women, who are a disproportionate number of frontline workers, i.e. nurses, store clerks and teachers, are having to put family’s health and security at risk by going to work without the necessary protections and equipment to keep them safe. 

On a global scale, 55% of women have reported a decrease in income as a result of COVID and 27% of women compared to 10% of men report challenges related to mental illness as a direct result of COVID. (CARE)

We can see how these numbers will translate to economic hardship for women in countries that already have a poor reputation for how women are treated and have been hit hard by COVID.  Iran ranks 149th in the world in terms of women’s earnings and women earn 1/5 of what men earn.  Furthermore, only 40% of women participate in the economy in Iran.  That number is closer to 80% in much of the rest of the world.  And it’s not because of a lack of interest or motivation. Women receive 65% of graduate degrees in Iran. The barriers to entry in Iran are so high for women that it makes it extremely difficult for them to participate in the workforce, let alone compete for positions and wages. Those numbers are from Women Freedom Forum’s 2020 Annual Report and don’t capture what has happened since the spread of COVID.  The updated numbers are certain to be even more troubling.

Looking more closely at how the social and economic disparities play out in certain women dominated industries and jobs in Iran during COVID, we can look at the case of nurses and teachers. Eighty percent of nurses in Iran are women.  The average salary of a nurse is 3.3 million tomans a month ($220).  The poverty line in Iran stood at 8 million toman ($533) per month in 2019.  The situation for teachers is not any better.  The average salary for teachers is 3.25 million tomans equivalent to the $220 that nurses are making. 

Now with COVID, the situation for these professions has worsened.  Thirty-thousand nurses in Iran have been infected with COVID-19 and the numbers are assumed to be grossly underreported.  There is a shortage of nurses and protective equipment.  Even the regime itself admits that “Nurses are falling like fall leaves.”  The delay in payment of nurse salaries is on average 8 to 22 months. 

Of course, nurses, teachers and others are protesting these conditions.  There have been protests in many cities throughout the country specific to the economic conditions for these professions.  And as others on this panel have and will address, protesting for women in Iran is an enormous risk and can lead to detrimental and deadly consequences for them.

I could go on and on about these disparities and atrocities in Iran and in the world.  The bottom line is that there will be very negative long term economic effects for women in the United States, Iran and everywhere else in the world as a result of COVID-19 and unless the circumstances that are leading to these effects are addressed directly and action is not taken to alleviate them, we will be taking huge steps back in our united efforts and progress towards women’s freedom and equality. 

CALL TO ACTION

When looking to guidance on how these realities can be addressed one of the shining examples is from Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the parliament-in-exile National Council of Resistance of Iran.  In her discussion of how the free and democratic Iran of the future will ensure economic access and mobility for women she addresses the issue of pay directly and states that women shall be paid the same wages as men for equivalent work.  Something we haven’t accomplished yet here in the United States, where women make 80 cents to every dollar a man earns. She also goes as far as to address things like childcare and healthcare, which are major reasons for why women, even in the west, are struggling and being held back economically.  I encourage all of you to read her plans for women in Iran on her site Maryam-rajavi.com. 

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