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Protecting Women’s Livelihoods in Times of Pandemic: Temporary Basic Income and the Road to Gender Equality

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UNDP calls for temporary basic income to help world’s poorest women cope with effects of COVID-19 pandemic

New York, 4 March 2021 – A temporary basic income (TBI) given specifically to hundreds of millions of women in the world’s developing countries could prevent rising poverty and widening gender inequalities during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report out today.

Women have been harder hit than men by the pandemic, losing income and leaving the labour market at a greater rate and taking on a greater share of care work. A temporary basic income could provide financial security in the short-term paving the way for future investments that address systematic gender inequality, according to the UNDP findings released ahead of International Women’s Day.

The large-scale TBI scheme proposed by UNDP shows that a monthly investment of 0.07 percent of developing countries’ GDP, or $51 billion PPP (purchase power parity), could provide reliable financial security to 613 million working-aged women living in poverty, providing them with much needed income and alleviating the economic pressures they face day-to-day.

A nominal budgetary allocation for the next six months towards helping women who are in desperate situations will also contribute to give them more financial control over their own lives.

“Governments can take action right now by redirecting just 0.07 percent of their GDP each month directly to women experiencing severe socio-economic stress, because a monthly basic income could ensure survival in these unprecedented times,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “The benefits of such a meaningful investment could not only help women and their families absorb the shock of the pandemic, but also empower women to make independent decisions about money, livelihoods and life choices.“

The TBI schemes explored by UNDP are not a one-size-fits-all emergency measure, but allow for a scaled-up approach to cast a wide net on who qualifies. For example, when raising the threshold to include vulnerability lines, the scheme reaches 1.32 billion women costing $134 billion (PPP), or 0.18 percent of the GDP. To expand even further to cover all 2 billion women across the developing world, it will cost $231 billion (PPP) or 0.31 percent of GDP.

There is an urgency to act immediately to ensure women can access social protection schemes, say the report authors, as the crisis has affected women differently than men.

Jobs done by women around the world tend to be lower paid, if paid at all, often lack social protection and safety nets, and are predominately in the sectors shuttered by the global lockdowns like care work and hospitality.

Women have also taken on a greater share of unpaid work, have been increasingly pushed out of the labour force, and have faced a surge of domestic violence with lockdowns forcing them to stay in unsafe homes.

UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet.