COVID-19 impacts women’s empowerment in the developing world

5 Ways COVID-19 Impacts Women in Developing Countries in 2021

While both women and men have had their livelihoods disrupted by COVID-19, longstanding gender inequalities mean that women are more likely to see their quality of life and long-term economic prospects negatively impacted by the crisis. Learn about a few of the ways the pandemic is affecting women’s empowerment and what TechnoServe is doing to respond.

Learn how COVID-19 impacts women in the developing world

Learn about 5 ways COVID-19 impacts women in the developing world in 2021:

Almost one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the economic impact of this crisis is gendered. Women and girls face systemic barriers to their full participation in the economy. They often have limited access to the productive resources like land, finance, and information they need to grow their farms and businesses. 

On a global scale, women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and discrimination. They also often balance the bulk of unpaid care work with the daily demands of earning money for the household. These dual responsibilities are not only exhausting, but make it difficult for women to improve their skills and opportunities to earn an income.

A Path Toward Women’s Empowerment

None of these challenges are new phenomena – but the COVID-19 crisis has made many of them worse. 

This problem might feel daunting or hopeless, but that’s far from the truth. Together, gender equity is a possibility we can achieve  — and you can make a difference in this fight. Empowering women to achieve their full potential is one of the best ways to fight poverty.

As COVID-19 impacts women around the world, TechnoServe is working creatively to help them gain equal access to knowledge, jobs, and finance. With the right support, women can enhance their incomes and their opportunities for the future. 

5 Ways COVID-19 Impacts Women’s Empowerment in the Developing World

covid-19 impacts women - job loss

COVID-19 impacts women’s livelihoods disproportionately, as many more lose their jobs during the pandemic

The specific nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns and travel restrictions have made its economic impact particularly devastating for women.

Women, for example, make up 60% of the workforce in the most severely affected economic sector:  food service and hospitality. They are also overrepresented in other impacted sectors like micro-retail and informal cross-border trade.

In India, the pandemic led to a loss of migrant labor and the closure of wholesale markets, which created significant challenges for smallholder farmers. In response, TechnoServe is helping women like Rajkumari Akhilesh set up microenterprises, which can help them supplement the income from their farms during times of uncertainty. 

“During the lockdown, while we were not able to make a lot of money because we couldn’t access markets, I am very happy that I could depend on yellow sticky traps [a microenterprise opportunity] as a source of revenue,” she says. “I was able to earn additional income, which I have saved for my daughters’ school fees.” 

 I was able to earn additional income, which I have saved for my daughters’ school fees.” – Rajkumari Akhilesh

covid-19 impacts women - financial barriers

COVID-19 impacts women by creating barriers to accessing finance and savings

Women around the world were already earning and saving less than men, making it more difficult for them to absorb economic shocks. One way women can increase their resilience is by participating in community-based savings groups. 

In Peru, small, self-organized savings organizations called UNICAs (Uniónes de Crédito y Ahorro) offer women financial support by pooling resources and providing loans.

TechnoServe’s Coffee Alliance for Excellence (CAFE) program – a public-private partnership between TechnoServe, the U.S. Agency for International Development, global coffee roaster JDE, and coffee exporter Perhusa – is helping women in rural Peru establish and access these crucial savings groups. 

Through the program, women gain access to:

  • Training and technical assistance that teaches participants how to join and form UNICAs
  • Post-completion follow-ups to ensure knowledge retention and reinforce core learnings
  • Instruction on how to develop the requisite administrative and financial capacities of group members

covid-19 impacts women's empowerment - unpaid care work

 During COVID-19, women take on more unpaid care work

Women around the world are picking up most of the added domestic and childcare responsibilities that the pandemic has generated. This added workload often limits women’s ability to pursue economic goals outside of the home. On average, women spend 4.1 hours per day on unpaid care work, compared to 1.7 hours per day for men. These patterns have not changed during the pandemic.

TechnoServe works to engage men who participate in our programs and explain to them why it’s important for them to take on a greater share of the domestic responsibilities. We’ve found it particularly helpful to emphasize how this will benefit the family finances, as it allows women to spend more time on economic activities.


covid-19 impacts women's empowerment by reducing access to technology

Women face a gender gap in access to technology

As more and more interactions have moved online, the gender gap in access to technology has taken on added importance — yet another way COVID-19 impacts women at a greater scale.  In the world’s least-developed countries, men are 52% more likely to have access to the internet than are women. 

Men are also 20% more likely than women to own a smartphone across all low- and middle-income countries. This makes it more difficult for women to reach suppliers and customers, access training, or make financial transactions. TechnoServe recognizes that not everyone has the same access to technology. We use a range of communications channels, depending on the profile of the farmer or entrepreneur we want to reach. 

Working with micro-retailers in vulnerable neighborhoods of Maputo, Mozambique, for instance, our staff distributed paper copies of the business lessons to supplement training provided by SMS and WhatsApp messages. In northern Nigeria, we enlisted intermediaries in the community who had access to phones to relay the training to women who did not.

Women and girls experience higher levels of food insecurity and malnutrition

Studies have shown that women and children are more likely than men to experience food insecurity and malnutrition during times of crisis.  COVID-19 impacts women at a greater rate, but it also creates adverse outcomes for entire family units. Families cope with these stressors and a loss of income in various ways.

Consider a few examples: 

  • Purchasing less food 
  • Purchasing less nutritious food 
  • Reducing the number of meals they consume per day

In a survey of farmers participating in TechnoServe programs, 18% of women reported going to bed hungry because of lack of food, compared to 14% of men. 

Food Security is Freedom: How Families Can Build Resilience

Helping families improve their food security is another way to increase overall resilience. 

In India, TechnoServe is supporting women to establish organic kitchen gardens in their backyards. Kitchen gardens have helped smallholder farmers like N. Mangamma save money, reduce trips to the market, and access healthy, nutritious food during a challenging time. 

Thankfully, I can depend on my kitchen garden to provide vegetables for the family. I can also save between $10.70 and $16.05 every month because I don’t need to purchase these vegetables from the market anymore.”
— N. Mangamma, smallholder farmer, India

Learn more about how you can support solutions for food security challenges due to  COVID-19 and promote women’s economic empowerment in the developing world.