In Chad, only half of women participate in the labor force in contrast with nearly three-quarters of men. As this column reports, during the pandemic things got worse: Covid-19 forced some of the sectors in which women are mostly employed to shut down. It also burdened women with increased household and care work, reducing their economic productivity. Given the level of pre-pandemic gender inequality, closing gender gaps has become an even bigger challenge.
Chad’s development challenges are immense: from low economic productivity to long-lasting conflicts. Gender inequality is a particularly critical problem, which constrains both growth and social justice, yet is not always considered to be a priority. What’s more, the wide economic and social gaps between men and women in the country have widened during the pandemic. They have also amplified the impact of Covid-19 on women.
In a recent study, we use a macroeconomic model and microeconomic data to understand this two-way effect. The findings show that the pandemic has had a disproportionately higher negative impact on women in urban areas and households headed by women in general, with higher income losses.
With the impact of Covid-19 on gender gaps likely to be prolonged beyond 2021, recovery efforts present a unique opportunity for the government to put the women who have suffered most at the center, and to work toward fixing longstanding inequalities.
Chad’s economy and the impact of Covid-19
Chad is a fragile, oil-exporting, low-income country, which had a real GDP per capita of US$734 in 2018. It has experienced more frequent and more severe conflicts than any other country in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), of which the other five members are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo. Conflict and violence have characterized 37 years since independence in 1960, many times more than the regional average.
Chad is also affected by conflicts in neighboring countries (Cameroon, Libya, Nigeria, and Sudan), and it currently hosts more than 450,000 refugees. In addition, since 2005, oil has been the primary source of export earnings, accounting for over 85% of total exports. This dependence on the oil sector exposes the country to fiscal and balance of payment shocks stemming from oil price volatility.
Before the pandemic, Chad was already performing behind its peers in gender equality, ranking 147 out of 153 countries in the global gender gap index. Women constitute half of Chad’s working population but are mostly employed in the informal sector, are less productive and earn less than men, which contributes significantly to low productivity in most sectors. Only half of women participate in the labor force in contrast with 73% of men. Thus, gender equality is one of the critical areas that need to be addressed for Chad’s economic development.
During the pandemic, things got worse: Covid-19 forced some of the sectors in which women are mostly employed to shut down. It also burdened women with increased household and care work, reducing their economic productivity.
Given the level of pre-pandemic gender inequality, closing gender gaps has become an even bigger challenge. But like every crisis, the pandemic also offers an opportunity to draw attention to these inequalities and address the gaps more effectively.
Sectoral and distributional effects of the pandemic on Chad’s economy
Our study uses a macroeconomic model and microeconomic data to understand the possible sectoral and distributional effects of the pandemic on Chad’s economy. The focus of the analysis is on women’s employment and production in agricultural farms owned by women. We complement the macro-level analysis using the results of a household survey conducted during the pandemic to assess actual income and employment effects on households headed by women, and strategies adopted to cope with Covid-19.
The findings show that the pandemic has had a disproportionately higher negative impact on women in urban areas. Gender-related dynamics mainly drive these results. Women working in paid jobs have been more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic. The significant pay gap and employment rate of women results in a lower contribution to sector added-value. Furthermore, lower productivity than men combined with social norms and perceptions often result in women being the first to be fired in times of crisis.
The situation is potentially dire, especially in service sectors where most women work in urban areas. The survey results show that the pandemic has particularly affected household incomes from enterprises, and this negative impact is more prevalent for families headed by women.
This is not a big surprise: although women own 57% of non-farm enterprises, they make 77% less profit than enterprises owned by men. In addition, women entrepreneurs, on average, have a lower level of education and less access to electricity, running water, machinery, and telephones for their businesses. These findings point out that enterprises owned by women are mostly micro-scale and service-oriented, which the pandemic has affected more.
Our analysis also suggests that the impacts of Covid-19 on gender gaps are likely to be prolonged beyond 2021. Many adolescents who drop out of school during the pandemic due to school closures may never return to school, get married off early, and have lower lifelong productivity.
Much of these gendered economic impacts are due to pre-existing gender gaps in the labor structure of Chad. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize the heterogeneity in women’s livelihoods to identify affected households and individuals, and to design policy responses accordingly. Gender-sensitive policy responses can help to alleviate the economic stresses for women across various sectors and help Chad to build back stronger.
Addressing gender inequalities is crucial for a full recovery. Introducing an effective safety net for women and ensuring that they can take advantage of economic opportunities, specifically in agriculture, might be immediate next steps to address the issues flagged in our research. That way, the government can seize this critical opportunity to put the women who have suffered the most extensive economic effects at the center of recovery efforts, and to work toward fixing longstanding inequalities.