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‘Gender bonds may help women during pandemic’

AS the pandemic forced many women to quit their jobs as well as worsened the care crisis in the region, experts are now calling for innovative financing to support women in these trying times.

In a session on the second day of the 54th ADB Annual Meeting of Governors on Tuesday, experts such as Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) Secretariat Head Wendy Teleki said gender bonds could help women-led businesses recover from the pandemic.

Teleki said the lockdowns and the need to take care of family members at home has forced many women to give up their businesses. Many institutions also could not help as support for women entrepreneurs remained low.

“Capital markets resource mobilization is incredibly important to get the scale that we’re looking for and one of the big things for We-Fi is making sure we’re crowding in as much private capital to support women as possible and bonds are one of the really important innovations that we’ve been excited to support with our multilateral development banks,” Teleki said.

“We’ve also seen the development of the standards around gender bonds recently and in our members are partners have played an important role in that and we see this as an important part of the future of financing for women entrepreneurs,” she added.

Teleki said 252 million women are engaged in entrepreneurship and a third of all formal small and medium enterprises are owned and led by women worldwide.

However, women owned firms average about half the size of male lead firms. These firms face significant financing constraints with an estimated $1.7 trillion financing gap.

Teleki also said Covid-19 “made a bad situation worse” because many women-led firms have seen sharper drops in revenue compared to male-led businesses.

She explained this was because women-led businesses were largely informal and concentrated in service industries.

“Many of the gains we had made to close the financing gap are faltering as financial institutions revert to their traditional customer bases and that’s both on the debt side and on the equity side,” she added.

Apart from women entrepreneurs, International Labor Organization (ILO) Senior Specialist in Gender Joni Simpson said women workers also suffered significantly during the pandemic.

Simpson said women were “overrepresented” in industries that were significantly affected by the pandemic such as tourism, manufacturing, and trade. Areas where supply chains were significantly disrupted also affected more women.

She said globally women’s employment declined by five people compared to only 3.9 percent for men. Majority of women whose employment suffered under the weight of the pandemic were forced to leave the labor force.

ADB Deputy Chief Economist Joseph E. Zveglich Jr. said many women dropped out of the labor force because of the need to take care of children who are now homeschooling and sick family members.

“A survey by UN women reported increased hours spent in unpaid care and domestic work at home, women were starting at a much higher level the burden of child children’s education and care of sick family members will complicate women’s return to the workforce possibly reducing their already low labor force participation rate,” Zveglich said.

In a televised debate last Monday, Asakawa highlighted the need to look at the plight of women in the region. Not only were their livelihoods affected but also domestic violence worsened because of the prolonged lockdown.

Because of the lockdowns, many of the women were forced to stay home with their abusers. Asakawa said this is lamentable and that ADB’s developing member countries must discuss ways to address gender based violence in the region.

Investing in people, he said, is also important especially when it comes to health. Asakawa agreed with Japan Governor and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso that UHC is necessary for the recovery.

Asakawa said these efforts could be coupled by investing in regional vaccine manufacturers especially in light of what is happening now with the very high demand for vaccines but small supply.

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