HomeEquality & JusticeFrom nannies to helpers, coronavirus spotlights women's job insecurity in Asia

From nannies to helpers, coronavirus spotlights women’s job insecurity in Asia

When the new coronavirus began to spread around the world last month, Hong Kong babysitter Tina Yeung found herself out of work — one of many Asian women whose jobs in informal sectors are threatened by the pandemic.

The virus has infected more than 134,000 people globally and caused nearly 5,000 deaths since it was first reported in China in December, wreaking economic havoc and impacting workers in industries from airlines to tourism.

Asian women in low-paid informal work such as cleaning and cooking or caring for children, many without proper contracts or social protection, are bearing the brunt of widespread job cuts, experts say.

Yeung is one of them. She works with an expatriate family, who abruptly left the southern Chinese city for a month to return to Britain in late January, as the new coronavirus spread.

“I was not paid for the month. I had to find some part-time jobs and stopped giving my sons their pocket money,” said the 44-year-old mother-of-two.

“This is our job, there is no guarantee,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Babysitter.hk, a Hong Kong website which links nannies to parents, said about one-tenth of its network of 4,000 women had no work last month.

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The site’s director Felix Choi said demand had dropped due to parents working from home more and fears about child-minders and other outsiders introducing the virus into households.

‘Women hit harder’

Informal employment is prevalent for both men and women across Asia, according to the United Nations.

Women more often work in precarious and lower-paid sectors like domestic work and agriculture, lacking benefits like pensions and parental leave.

“Women are hit harder by economic impacts such as those COVID-19 is driving, especially as women disproportionately work in insecure labour,” said Mohammad Naciri, the head of U.N. Women in Asia.

“An even greater burden is placed on women where health systems are overloaded or schools are closed, as care for children or sick family members largely falls on women.”

Men in Asia perform the lowest share of unpaid work — an average of 64 minutes each day, compared to 262 minutes for women, U.N. figures showed.

The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB), a regional domestic workers’ advocacy group, said hundreds of women from the Philippines or Indonesia were likely to lose their job as the economy slowed and families let go of their helpers.

The two countries are leading providers of foreign helpers, with women bolstering their economies by sending back millions of dollars each year in remittances.

“Most of these women are the sole breadwinner back home. The impact from the virus is only going to get worse,” said AMCB spokesman Eman Villanueva. 

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.

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