benglish1_Ziaul Haque OisharjhSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_bangladeshgarmentfactoryworkerwomen Ziaul Haque Oisharjh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Will the Pandemic Set Women Back?

By sapping demand for garments and other goods produced in export-oriented developing and emerging economies, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an acute threat to women workers and progress toward greater gender equality. In addressing the economic fallout of the public-health crisis, policymakers must tailor their response accordingly.

PRINCETON/TORONTO – In April, the International Labor Organization predicted that 195 million workers worldwide would “suffer severely” in the second quarter of this year, owing to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. And markets remain shaky, raising fears of a recession more severe and prolonged than that following the 2008 financial crisis. The stakes are high for everyone, but particularly for women – and especially for women in developing and emerging economies.

A recession (or even depression) would cause more than just economic losses. The experience of the post-2008 period suggests that women’s advances will be rolled back substantially, even among those already doing low-income work. In that case, the gains will be difficult, if not impossible, to win back.

The COVID-19 crisis, like the 2008 crisis, has revealed features of globalization that many take for granted in normal times. When advanced economies like the United States contract sharply, their consumers cut back on spending, and demand for goods from export-oriented countries plummets. Owing to the pandemic, the low-wage global garment industry is facing what some manufacturers describe as an “apocalyptic” situation.

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