A more nimble, collaborative approach to protect vulnerable workers and gender equality is required as we collectively work towards a better future, and joining forces will help us to overcome both short- and long-term challenges
COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting women and workers in the informal economy. Unless the international community acts quickly and decisively, we risk losing many of the development gains made in recent decades and exacerbating gender inequalities in the labour market.
Around 1.6 billion informal economy workers have been significantly affected by lockdown measures and/or work in the hardest hit sectors, according to the International Labor Organization. Earnings of informal workers plummeted by 60% during the first month of the pandemic, globally.
Women and girls carry multiple burdens, especially during crises. Most often, they are the primary caregivers, homemakers and wage earners. During lockdowns, access to crucial health services is disrupted, reports of violence against women have increased and informal workers, most of whom are women, are particularly at risk of financial hardship.
In response to COVID-19, as well as channelling emergency grants through organisations such as the World Health Organization, the OPEC Fund quickly modified its approval process to enable its concessional loans to be fast-tracked to developing countries. We continue to provide support for vulnerable workers, gender equality and other development priorities. For example, in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation, we recently helped increase lending to women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises in Colombia. The $50 million we contributed to the funding for Banco Davivienda will also improve access to mortgages for low-income households and support certified green building.
Earlier this year, we approved a $20 million public sector loan to help Senegal improve agricultural production in rural communities. The project includes the creation of 300 hectares of vegetable gardens for women and youth. And our decades-long work financing MSMEs in Egypt has resulted in many thousands of new employment opportunities. Encouraged by the success of loans in 2009 and 2015, the government of Egypt recently requested that the OPEC Fund provide a third tranche of support for the programme. A loan for $95 million was signed earlier this year that aims to create more than 30,000 MSME jobs, especially for women and young graduates.
Our support for gender equality and entrepreneurship is long-standing. In 2012, for example, we helped finance Grameenphone’s Village Phone Program in Bangladesh under our private-sector facility. VPP women work as self-employed pay phone operators, providing mobile phone services in rural areas where such facilities were limited or even non-existent. By 2019, more than 83,000 villages were covered. The success of the programme has triggered its replication in many other developing countries.
The lessons learned from COVID-19 call for the development community to come together to protect gains and find better ways of driving progress. The rapid global spread of the virus required governments and the international community to respond quickly to changing circumstances. We have entered a new normal where working together in smarter, more nimble ways than before is the only way to succeed. Future challenges will no doubt demand even more decisive action. The OPEC Fund has been prioritising product innovation and agile working for some time. By partnering with similarly forward-thinking actors and focusing above all on the people we aim to empower, we can overcome the current challenges and prepare better for the future.