Women in informal sector recount losses due to COVID-19

The impact of crisis is never gender-neutral and COVID-19 is no exception, for the single mother in Ghana.

For the domestic worker at Nyamekrom, a suburb of Koforidua in the New Juaben South municipality, the toll of the pandemic has meant no job or source of livelihood, no unemployment benefits and other protection from economic hardship.

For countless women in economies of every size comes along with losing income, unpaid care and domestic work burden have exploded, while everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19, and women who are poor and marginalized face an even higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities, loss of livelihoods and increased violence.

Statistics show that globally 58 percent of employed women work in the informal sector and estimates suggest that during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, informal sector workers lost an average of 60 percent of their income.

The informal sector refers to workers who are self-employed, or work for self-employed people and, thus, earn a living through that, in most cases self-employed people are not on payrolls, do not pay taxes, and do their businesses in unprotected and unsecured ways.

The informal sector economy represents all work by individuals or businesses such as trading, dressmaking and tailoring, hairdressing, plumbing, carpentry, barbering, casual labourers street vendors and those at the markets. This sector is not sufficiently catered through formal arrangements, therefore, players in this sector largely depend on their skills and incomes to survive on daily basis.

Largely dominated by women, this sector has no official protection and recognition. Women in this sector do not enjoy monthly salary, pension scheme, no institutional benefits as advance salaries, leave or off days, maternity leave and other benefits enjoyed by their counterparts in the formal sector.

A 2015 Labour Force Survey by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) indicated that 90 percent of the employed population from 15 years and older were in the informal sector with women making up of over 50 percent.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, government imposed restrictions and instituted several measures to curb the fast spread of the disease including a lockdown, ban on social activities and social gathering, closure of markets and decongestion of central business districts, fumigation of markets and many others, all these measures were for a good course, it invariably affected women in the sector.

Some women in the informal sector in the New Juaben South municipality have narrated their losses and effects of the pandemic on their businesses, trading activities and general living conditions to the GNA as part of the ‘Mobilizing the Media for Fighting COVID-19″ project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA).

Ms Esther Klu, a 58 year old widow and mother of three, sharing her story said, she was a seamstress and worked for somebody on commission basis popularly called ‘work and pay’ in the industry, she earned GH¢20 on each ‘kaba and slit’ she sewed and was able to do averagely six weekly and 10 on occasions such as Easter, Christmas and end of months where people sew a lot for funeral activities.

When COVID-19 hit the country, funerals and all social gatherings including weddings and naming ceremonies where people sew a lot were restricted and the story became different. Esther in a whole week could sew only one or two kaba, making life difficult since she had nothing to fall on to make up for the loss in the weekly wages.

According to Esther, but for the public appeal that was made to landlords to have patience with their tenants with respects to paying of rents, she and her three children would have been ejected because she was not able to pay the monthly rent of Ghc 60.00 from that work.

She applied for the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme Business Support Scheme (CAPBuSS) Fund, an amount of GH¢6,000.00 to start a business by buying clothes and sewing for sale, since she realised that due to the COVID-19, people were not coming to sew but rather were buying already made clothes, and she was given GH¢750.00 only.

The CAPBuSS was launched in Ghana in May 2020, by President Akufo-Addo, as part of Ghana government’s intention of providing support to Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), who were affected by the  pandemic, with a seed money of GH¢1 billion to be presented by the NBSSI, an agency under the Trade and Industry Ministry.

The story of Lily Oduro, a hairdresser and member of the Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association (GHABA) is not different as she had to relocate from the rented shop to the verandah of her home, since she could not afford to pay for the rent and other operational cost that has affected her badly.

She explained that before the outbreak of COVID-19, business was good that she employed someone and was paying monthly to meet the high demands of customers who visited her salon, but with the outbreak of the pandemic, she has closed her shop.

Madam Aku Bossey, a 54-year-old fishmonger who has been in the trade for more than 30 years, described the effects of COVID-19 as devastating as she lost the capital of her more than 30 years business.

She explained that she had to stock a large quantity of the smoked fish during the initial stages of the pandemic with the hope that she will make a good sale but the restrictions affected her and most of her smoked fish went bad.

Even though she applied for the CAPBuSS Fund implemented through the National Board of Small Scale Industries (NBSSI), she only received GH¢900.00 out of the GH¢4, 000.00 she applied for through the mobile platform and said it was woefully inadequate.

Data obtained from the NBSSI by the Ghana News Agency showed that over 2,600 individuals, trade associations and groups such as the Ghana Tailors and Dressmakers Association (GNTDA) were verified after going through the applications to receive some support under the CAPBuSS Fund in Eastern Region.

The beneficiaries received cash ranging between GH¢600.00 to GH¢7,000 .00  depending on the type of businesses through various platforms such as the banks and mobile money transactions with moratoriums of between 6-24 months to pay back the grants as part of government’s response to mitigate impact of COVID-19 on the medium and small scale enterprises.

However, Mr Kofi Ayeh, a business development consultant explained that even though government intention on the CAPBuSS was reassuring its mitigation effect on those who provided service and get money in turn each day for their livelihood was minimal.

He said for instance, a seamstress or hairdresser who depended on the daily income of customers who walked into their facilities for a service could no longer do so because of COVID-19, adding that, “Such people due to the negative impact of the pandemic have lost their incomes for good and unless their businesses pick up again, every money they get are spent on their daily needs and livelihoods”.

He called for restructuring of the informal sector by instituting measures such as insurance and social security schemes tailored  to their business dynamics to ensure that in times such eventualities like COVID-19, they could fall on to sustain them through, reduce the impact and fast track recovery.

He called for a conversation to restructure and institutionalize the income of those in the informal sector as being enjoyed by their counterparts in the formal sector.

Another area, which must be critically looked at is how to expand the tax net to capture those in the informal sector arguing that the applications for accessing the CAPBuSS fund could be used as the basis for creating a database, to increase taxes to enable government embark on developmental projects.

In spite of the devastation impact of the pandemic on the global economy, it has brought to bare the gaps in the informal sector, which is largely dominated by women, other problems such as fire frequent outbreaks at markets places are highly affecting thousands of traders and robbing them of their livelihoods.

Insurance and social security system must be instituted for those in the informal sector to ensure that whatever businesses they are engaged in are registered and insured so that in times like fire outbreaks or pandemics such as COVID-19, the central coffers of the nation would not be overburdened.

By Bertha Badu-Agyei

Source: GNA

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