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ISLAMABAD: The impacts resulting from Covid-19 might lead to further declines in women’s participation in the economy in Pakistan, where women’s labour force participation is already among the world’s lowest, says the World Bank.

The bank in its latest report, “Impacts of Covid-19 on labour markets and household well-being in Pakistan: evidence from an online job platform”, noted that the pandemic led to an unprecedented level of economic insecurity, resulting in widespread job loss, business closures, slowdown in business activity, and reduced working hours.

The sectors where women are more likely to be employed, such as education and health, were more severely affected, yet the post-pandemic recovery was faster for males.

The pandemic has also led to a disproportionate increase in women’s unpaid care work, as well as increasing their reported rates of stress, anxiety and exposure to violence.

The report noted that economic crises can also worsen existing gender inequalities and reinforce gender roles within households. Loss of income and employment often requires households to adjust expenditures to cope with the crisis.

The pandemic resulted in a sudden drop in labour demand, as measured by the number of job advertisements, increasing the competition for jobs. When countrywide lockdown measures were introduced in mid-March 2020, the number of job advertisements plunged by 76 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Given that the number of job postings in February 2020 was at 91 percent of the previous year, the drop is clearly associated with the Covid-19 lockdown. With fewer jobs available, the number of job applications fell sharply to 33 percent of the previous year in the last week of March 2020, while the average number of applications per job increased, especially after March 18. In short, the labour market became increasingly competitive for jobseekers, a pattern that persisted even when the number of job advertisements recovered slightly to 36 percent of the previous year by the end of August 2020.

The online Covid-19 survey reveals more about the pandemic’s impacts on businesses across Pakistan, including closures, reduced working hours and slowdown in business activity. The survey of employers shows that 32 percent of the businesses that responded were temporarily closed due to the pandemic, while another 8 percent were permanently closed. Of the firms that remained open, 51 percent reduced their working hours, 49 percent of the firms reported a reduction in the demand for their products, and 66 percent showed a decline in their revenues. With the decrease in demand and revenue, 25 percent of the open businesses reported slowing down their activities either very much or immensely.

The report further stated that the onset of the pandemic was accompanied by a noticeable decline in employment and an increase in the number of people looking for jobs. The jobseekers sampled for the online Covid-19 survey confirmed that the labour market became tighter, as previously indicated by administrative data from Rozee.pk. The share of individuals working post-Covid-19 fell from 65 to 51 percent of respondents, while those looking for jobs increased from 68 to 88 percent of respondents. The magnitude of these changes is validated by multivariate analysis of the change in the probability of working and job search before and after Covid-19.

The labour market effects of Covid-19 were accompanied by coping strategies to mitigate the impact of income loss on household well-being. Due to work loss during Covid-19, 68 percent of females and 61 percent of males in the online Covid-19 survey reported a reduction in household income. Women who were employed during Covid-19 were 11 percentage points more likely to report a decline in household incomes than men.

Respondents, especially women, complemented their coping strategies with unpaid work. It is well-established that women perform more unpaid work than men globally, but this disparity is worse in Pakistan than any other country in the world, the report noted.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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