It has been widely shown that the consequences of economic crises fall disproportionately on women, particularly on those who belong to the poorer strata of population. The current crisis could trigger the same process in the Global South

The Post-Covid recovery
in the Global South

5 min read
Foto: Unsplash/ Belle Maluf

The systemic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has had the effect of shedding light on social inequalities, including on the divide between the South and the North of the world. The inequalities in terms of capacity and quality of public health systems have emerged clearly, as have the widely different levels of social and economic vulnerability. 

In terms of public health systems’ responsiveness, different global regions are in stark contrast: while in rich countries there are on average 55 hospital beds, 30 doctors and 81 nurses every 100.000 persons, in least developed countries there are about 7 hospital beds, 3.5 doctors and 5 nurses every 100.000 persons. In South Sudan there only were 2 hospital beds in intensive care when the pandemic began (disaggregated indicators and data by country can be found here and here e here). However, we shouldn’t forget that despite the low level of capacity of the system in some of the world’s poorest countries, we are witnessing a relatively positive evolution of the pandemic, the causes of which are still debated[1].   

From the socioeconomic point of view however, the situation in most countries in the Global South, is already highly problematic. Due to the precariousness of labour – in countries like Bangladesh o Congo over 90% of work is informal- and insufficient social protection, the conditions of millions of persons, already living in extreme poverty, aggravated immediately when lockdowns were enforced. At the macroeconomic level, the contraction of the global economy is also affecting enormously poorer countries: global demand for exported goods diminished, remittances -which can constitute up to one third of GDP in some countries- went down, and tourism -another important source of national income- basically disappeared. Moreover, the foreign debt of many developing countries revalued by 20-30% in just a few weeks, because of the depreciation of currencies caused by capital flows. Argentina, for example, started negotiating with its creditors in April and obtained the G20’s permission to restructure its debt in July and is still trying to agree in a deal with private lenders. Even though global financial institutions are discussing a debt moratorium, it is highly probable that there will be a debt crisis in the coming months (as explained also here and here).

Achim Steiner, head of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), warned that if it not confronted adequately, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, could erode the human development progress of the last ten years. Jayati Ghosh, a renowned Indian economist also expressed concern respect to the resources that will be necessary to face the crisis in the Global South, stressing that countries here do not have the same fiscal space as in the North. 

It has been widely shown that the consequences of economic crises fall disproportionately on women, particularly on those who belong to the poorer strata of population. For example, austerity measures of the 80s and 90s in Latin America, which transferred many services from the public to the private sector, hit women particularly hard. This was both because of women’s role as unpaid workers in the domestic and community care systems, as well as for their high labor precariousness (Beneria’s seminal work on this topic can be found here). Likewise, in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South-East Asia, the 2008 crisis affected especially women, because of the labor sectors that they were mainly inserted in. 

The current crisis could trigger the same process: in most developing countries, women, especially the poorest ones, are over-represented in informal work and at the same time they are dealing with an increased load of unpaid domestic and care work due to the consequences of the pandemic. Women are also the first to go hungry in a food and nutrition crisis securing food as they tend to skip meals or eat smaller portions so the family ration goes further. As regards gender based violence it is well known that it increases during crises -as seen in different countries during lockdowns- while reproductive health can become harder to access, especially in places where it is not considered a priority. Finally, there is a tangible risk that in a context of scarce resources, funds initially allocated to initiatives that contribute to women’s health and rights, are re-directed towards other sectors.

It is therefore essential not only to make resources available to countries in the global South -both through Official Development Assistance (ODA) and new debt agreements- but also to stress the need for development policies that consider explicitly the gender dimension. The UN Special Rapporteur  on extreme poverty and human rights recently highlighted that globally social protection measures that are based on human rights and reflect vulnerabilities of different social groups are highly needed. Despite the commitments made at the Beijing Conference in 1995 to mainstream gender in development aid, as of today the large majority of funds allocated to ODA does not consider the gender dimension at all. The latest available data, collected yearly by the OECD, shows that only 4% of bilateral ODA is dedicated to gender equality programs, while gender is mainstreamed in 34% of ODA. In the remaining 62%, gender equality is not a focus at all[2].

There is however some encouraging data from countries like Sweden or the Netherlands, where about 15% of development assistance is dedicated to gender equality, or Canada, that has officially committed to increase its quota. This path has to be followed to address effectively the negative impact of the current crisis on women’s lives and avoid that the promotion of women’s rights in international development -or in any arena for that matter- becomes pure rhetoric.  


[1] Some however fear that the worst phase of the pandemic may have yet to come in these countries, while others signal the low level of testing and possiblity of poor reporting.

[2] Compound data on multilateral aid and the gender dimension is currently not widely available as there is no single synthetic database on this type of aid. As regards development funds given by private entities and foundations, so-called philanthropy, about 16% has a gender focus.