Kenya: Women Bear Brunt of COVID-19 Job Losses

Pandemic renders more than 50 per cent women jobless

Ms Faith Awiti was forced to close down her mitumba business at Gikomba market a fortnight after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kenya.

The mother of two says daily, she would spend Sh500 for fare from her Lang'ata home to Gikomba and for food. But as business slowed down, she realised her savings would be depleted while chasing profits that were unlikely to come.

"I realised I was running on a loss. I wondered how I would pay my rent and my assistant yet business was not doing well," says Ms Awiti who has been selling the merchandise since 2016.

Breaking it down, the 34-year-old entrepreneur had to pay a monthly rent of Sh7,000 and pay her shop assistant between Sh300 and Sh500 as commission daily.

To make ends meet, Ms Awiti has been hawking clothes in her neighbourhood but "nobody is buying because there is no money".

"People are concerned about food," she says.

For now, Ms Awiti is surviving on her savings and to cut on expenses, she has started a kitchen garden to supplement her diet.

PAY CUT

The case is no different for Ms Perpetual Njeri. Her employer forced her to go on indefinite leave and she got a 50 per cent pay cut.

Ms Awiti and Ms Njeri are among 51.2 per cent women who have been rendered jobless due to Covid-19 pandemic according to a survey on Socio Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Households Report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

The latest data KNBS released two weeks ago revealed that more than 50 per cent of working women have been rendered jobless by the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey report on Socio-Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Households released by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukuru Yatani further revealed that more women than men work in jobs that are vulnerable to disruption, especially in the service and manufacturing industries.

The survey showed two thirds (65.3 per cent) males were in the labour force while slightly more than half (51.2 per cent) of the females were found to be outside the labour force in the reference period.

Almost half of the respondents who were absent from work said that it was due to lockout or stay away instructions as guided by the government and/or employers.

The disease, which is highly contagious has led to many countries taking drastic measures in order to curb its spread.

KNOCK ON EFFECTS

In Kenya, the government has introduced a raft of measures including banning of all passenger flights, temporary closure churches, bars, hotels, suspension of learning in all education institutions, dusk to dawn curfew, cessation of movement in and out of some high-risk areas among others.

These inevitable measures and the looming uncertainty about the disease have had knock-on effects on businesses and workers' incomes.

Business owners have introduced several cost-cutting measures aimed at ensuring that their businesses remain afloat.

The enterprises have had to delay investments, purchases of goods and the hiring of workers, while others have resorted to salary cuts for their employees, temporary layoffs and in some cases total closure.

Mid this month, Labour and Social Services Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said 1.2 million people had lost jobs in two months since the outbreak of the disease.

With a 51.2 per cent women out of jobs implies 614,400 women lost jobs against 585,600 for their male counterparts.

Mr Chelugui said the most affected sectors were wholesale, retail, hotel and accommodation where more than 600,000 were lost.

Because of their over-representation in these sectors, women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This will have a devastating impact on families, especially those headed by single mothers or where women are the main breadwinners.

The same jobs are often the ones with low pay and little or no benefits like paid leave, medical, among others.

Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), an employers' apex body lists tourism and travel business, transport and logistics, wholesale and retail industries that import their raw materials, manufacturing, infrastructure related industries as the most hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Federation of Kenya Employers CEO Jacqueline Mugo, whose organisation represents more than 4,000 companies, said losses being incurred by businesses are huge as most of them are operating at 50 per cent capacity and lower.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

"So far, we are aware of only five employers who have declared redundancies. Our advice to companies has been to avoid redundancies so most have sent staff on leave. The challenge will get more serious as staff members exhaust their annual leave from end of this month," she said.

Mrs Mugo said her members want a stimulus package from the government to enable them tame the unemployment crisis created by the pandemic.

Being majority in the low paid jobs, women are less likely to have personal wealth to buffer against an economic downturn and thus suffer more.

Early last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that over half a million Kenyans could lose their jobs in the next six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Uhuru said the pandemic has continued to force businesses to close down because of short working hours in what could render thousands jobless.

In a bid aimed at cautioning against further job losses, the president announced an eight-point economic plan that will see the economy jumpstarted.

"This Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, it is fundamentally an economic crisis. Jobs have been lost, businesses have closed and the economy is on a go-slow," he said.

He went on: "Because of the effects of this pandemic on the economy, there are Kenyans who have been stripped off their dignity, they cannot feed their families or pay their rent."

The president announced a Sh3 billion Credit Guarantee Scheme for the small, micro, and medium enterprises (SMEs).Under this scheme, the SMEs would receive seed capital to rebuild their business.

Uhuru, however, emphasized that the credit would be disbursed in consideration of professional standards and practices of private sector credit arrangements."

According to a 2016 baseline survey by KNBS women run 60.7 per cent of unlicensed (mainly micro) and 31.4 per cent of licensed Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Kenya.

Ms Awiti hopes to benefit from the scheme but to jumpstart her business, the businesswoman says she would need at least Sh80,000 to buy high quality merchandise.

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