COVID’s Impact in Real Time: Finding Balance Amid the Crisis

COVID-19: UNESCO– Solutions for Distance Learning
The contribution of voluntary social distancing was larger in advanced economies where people can work from home more easily or can even afford to stop working thanks to personal savings and social security benefits.

By Francesco Grigoli and Damiano Sandri
WASHINGTON DC, Oct 12 2020 – One enduring lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that any lasting economic recovery will depend on resolving the health crisis.

Our research in the latest World Economic Outlook shows that government lockdowns—while succeeding in their intended goal of lowering infections—contributed considerably to the recession and had disproportional effects on vulnerable groups, such as women and young people.

But the recession was also largely driven by people voluntarily refraining from social interactions as they feared contracting the virus. Therefore, lifting lockdowns is unlikely to lead to a decisive and sustained economic boost if infections are still elevated, as voluntary social distancing will likely persist.

Yet the analysis finds that a balance can be achieved in protecting public health while preventing a protracted economic decline. Lockdowns impose short-term costs but may lead to a faster economic recovery as they lower infections and thus the extent of voluntary social distancing.

Examining the medium-term effects of lockdowns as well as the robustness of our findings is an important area for future research as the pandemic evolves and more data become available.

The economic and health crisis through the lens of real-time data

We analyze the economic effects of lockdowns and voluntary social distancing using two high-frequency proxies for economic activity: mobility data from Google and job openings posted on the website Indeed.

As illustrated in the top chart below, over the entire sample of 128 countries used in the analysis, lockdowns and voluntary social distancing contributed equally to the drop in mobility during the first 3 months of a country’s epidemic.

The contribution of voluntary social distancing was larger in advanced economies where people can work from home more easily or can even afford to stop working thanks to personal savings and social security benefits.

Conversely, people in low-income countries are often unable to opt for voluntary social distancing as they do not have the financial means to cope with a temporary income loss. The analysis of job posting data provides similar insights, showing that both lockdowns and voluntary social distancing contributed substantially to the drop in labor demand.

The large contribution of voluntary social distancing in reducing mobility and job postings should warn policymakers against lifting lockdowns when infections are still elevated in the hope of jumpstarting economic activity. Addressing the health risks appears to be a pre-condition to allow for a strong and sustained economic recovery.

In this regard, the analysis reveals that lockdowns can substantially reduce infections. The effects are particularly strong if lockdowns are adopted early in a country’s epidemic.

The bottom chart below shows that countries that adopted lockdowns when COVID-19 cases were still low experienced much better epidemiological outcomes relative to countries that intervened when cases were already high. The chapter also documents that lockdowns must be sufficiently strict to curb infections, thus suggesting that stringent and short-lived lockdowns could be preferable to mild and prolonged measures.

The effectiveness of lockdowns in reducing infections, coupled with the finding that infections can considerably harm economic activity because of voluntary social distancing, calls for re-considering the prevailing narrative about lockdowns involving a trade-off between saving lives and supporting the economy.

This characterization of lives vs. livelihoods neglects that effective lockdown measures taken early during an epidemic may lead to a faster economic recovery by containing the virus and reducing voluntary social distancing.

These medium-term gains may offset the short-term costs of lockdowns, possibly even leading to positive overall effects on the economy. More research is warranted on this important aspect as the crisis evolves and more data become available.

The impact of lockdowns on vulnerable groups

The chapter also contributes to the growing evidence that the crisis is having disproportionate effects on more vulnerable groups. Anonymized and aggregated mobility data provided by telecommunications company Vodafone for Italy, Portugal, and Spain, show that stay-at-home orders and the associated school closures led to a larger drop in the mobility of women relative to men.

This effect is largely due to the disproportionate burden that women face in caring for children, which may prevent them from going to work, thus jeopardizing their employment opportunities.

The Vodafone data also reveal that lockdowns tend to impact the mobility of younger people more strongly. The bottom chart below shows that stay-at-home orders led to a sharper decline in the mobility of people aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 44 who tend to have younger children to care for when schools are closed and often have temporary job contracts that are more likely to be terminated during a crisis.

The larger impact on these populations threatens to increase inter-generational inequality.

Targeted policy intervention—such as strengthening unemployment benefits and supporting paid leave for parents—is thus needed to protect more vulnerable people and ensure that the crisis does not lead to a long-lasting widening of inequality.

Source: IMF Blog

*IMF Blog is a forum for the views of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and officials on pressing economic and policy issues of the day.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF and its Executive Board.


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Gendering Agriculture so Women Take the Lead in Feeding Africa

Rhoda Tumusiime, IITA Board Member, Former African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, and Chairperson, HOPE

Steven Cole, Senior Scientist and Gender Research Coordinator, IITA

By Rhoda Tumusiime and Steven Cole
IBADAN, Nigeria, Oct 12 2020 – Africa’s hopes of feeding a population projected to double by 2050 amidst a worsening climate crisis rest on huge investments in agriculture, including creating the conditions so that women can empower themselves and lead efforts to transform the continent’s farming landscape.

Rhoda Tumusiime

As we celebrate the 2020 International Year of Rural Women, Africa needs to reflect more on the role women play in food and nutrition security, land and water management.

Also, the impact of COVID-19 on women’s capacity to provide food for their families and care for their loved ones underscores the importance of strengthening their capacities by designing gender responsive actions.

We know the world has the technology and resources to eradicate hunger but finding the right policies and the will to implement them often elude us.

Fortunately, young women and men carrying out evidence-based research in sub-Saharan Africa are coming up with some possible answers on how to tackle these pressing issues.

Working with the support and guidance of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a research-for-development non-profit, these researchers are aiming to facilitate agricultural solutions to hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation in line with IITA’s goals and particularly its gender research strategy.

Bear in mind that over 60% of all employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, and that women produce up to 80% of foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in local markets. But these women farmers are disadvantaged by a range of factors, such as laws, policies, gender-blind development programs, and entrenched norms and power imbalances within and outside their homes and communities.

Fundamental gender constraints clearly shape how women and men are involved in and benefit from agricultural food systems. Manifested as harmful gender norms, attitudes and power relations, they have a particular impact on how young women participate in value chains or have access to resources such as land, as well as their decision-making powers and how money earned from their labor is spent.

Steven Cole

Gender-blind policies and development interventions do not take into account the different roles and diverse needs of men and women, while gender-accommodative policies confirm that gender constraints exist but can propose ways to work around them for the benefit of women.

IITA’s gender research strategy brings to the surface the underlying causes of gender inequalities to inform and guide policies to address these causes with interventions that reduce poverty and increase gender equality in low-income countries with boosts to job opportunities and economic, food and nutrition security.

In the months before the coronavirus surfaced and with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), IITA launched 80 research fellowships for young African scholars, with an emphasis on young female professionals and students aiming to acquire a master’s or doctoral degree. Grantees are offered training on research methodology, data management, scientific writing, and the production of research evidence for policymaking.

Known as CARE (Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence), the three-year project aims to build our understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact, and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness, and rural farm and non-farm economies.

Achieving these development outcomes requires working with multi-stakeholder groups at multiple levels to transform unequal power relations between female and male youth in various social institutions, including in the household, community, market, and the state.

For example, in southern Benin, graduate student Grace Chabi looked at why young agricultural entrepreneurs are predominately male. Among her policy recommendations are a call to remove gender biases from land ownership, credit, and employment practices. Policies should also facilitate female agripreneurship networks and target funding to agribusinesses owned by women.

Research by Akinyi Sassi in Tanzania found how stereotypes can negatively affect women’s intentions to use information and communication technologies (ICT) to access agricultural market information, but that contrary to such stereotyping, female farmers were more strongly influenced than male farmers by their perception of the value of using phones to find such information. Such gender factors can be considered when promoting ICT use.

Cynthia Mkong of Cameroon has examined the issue of role models, social status, and previous experience in determining why some students are more likely to choose agriculture as their university major. Almost a quarter of young women in Cameroon are unemployed, compared with 11% of young men. Building effective policies to improve the education of girls and household income at all levels could reverse declining youth interest in agriculture.

Adedotun Seyingbo examined employment among Nigerian youth and how gender and other issues, including land access, influence how more young people remain in non-farm employment rather than staying in farm jobs.

Also in Nigeria, Oluwaseun Oginni looked at rural-urban migration and found that 43% of youth migrants are female. A better future, educational opportunities, and marriage are among the reasons young women are leaving rural areas.

Adella Ng’atigwa examined how to empower youth to reduce horticulture postharvest losses in Tanzania and found that women have fewer losses as they are more involved in vegetable production and marketing and are more able to handle perishable crops.

All these research projects also illustrate IITA’s gender research strategy using what is known as an ‘intersectional lens’. This means an examination of deep inequities, sometimes violent and systematic, that intersect with each other: such as poverty, racism, sexism, denial of rights and opportunities, and generational differences. In this way the connections between all struggles for justice and equal opportunities are illuminated.

A gender transformative approach adopted by IITA aims to address the root causes of gender inequalities for more sustained and meaningful change for female and male youth. With such changes, Africa, with the world’s youngest and fastest growing population, will be better equipped to handle its future challenges with women at the forefront.


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