The impact of COVID-19 has worsened for women working in the garment sector due to underlying challenges such as discrimination and harassment, underrepresentation of women’s voice, wage gaps and unevenly shared unpaid care and family obligations, said the International Labour Organization (ILO) in a new brief released today (20 November).

The brief, which is titled “Gendered impacts of COVID-19 on the garment sector”, aims to raise awareness of the gendered reality of COVID-19, as well as to outline how the pandemic impacts women and men employees in the said industry.

“Women account for approxiamately 80 percent of the garment sector workforce, so they are heavility affected to start with by many of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Joni Simpson, Senior Gender Specialist for the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

She added, “However, women also experience additional impacts due to existing challenges they face in the workplace as well as expectations regarding women’s obligations in the home”.

A recent ILO research highlighted how major buying countries’ imports from garment-exporting countries in Asia had dropped by up to 70 percent in the first six months of 2020 due to the pandemic.

This has resulted in a hike in number of workers being laid-off and dismissed while factories that have reopened are often operating with reduced amount of staff. The Asia-Pacific region employed an estimated 65 million garment sector workers last year, accounting for 75 percent of all garment workers worldwide.

The brief that was released today also revealed short, medium and long-term impacts of the pandemic on women workers, as well as a series of recommendations to help build a more just and resilient industry and greater gender equality.

Some of the recommendations mentioned in the report include greater focus on retrenchment and closure practices as well as addressing women’s disproportionate unpaid care obligations so they can return to work as factories resume operations.

ILO stated that efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic should account for the unique ways that women and men may encounter the effects of the coronavirus at work, at home and in their communities.

If that’s not all, the importance of strengthening efforts to combat violence and harassment in the workplace is highlighted, in view of emerging data showing that COVID-19 has increased the risks of gender-based violence.

In addition, the need to ensure women’s voice, representation and leadership in dialogue and decision-making is also seen as key to ensuring a full and fair recovery from the pandemic.

“It is crucial that governments, businesses and other stakeholders understand the multi-dimensional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both women and men workers, and design policies that enable a smart, sustainable and gender-responsive recovery,” said Jessica Wan, Better Work Gender Specialist.

She continued, “Otherwise, the COVID-19 crisis threatens to exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and will hamper the social and economic sustainability of the garment sector”.

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