COVID-19 and Women: Saving for Resilience
The COVID-19 pandemic has not had an equal impact on women and men. Through our data, we are seeing a significant increase for women in caregiving duties, household chores and gender-based violence, as well as a devastating and worsening impact on livelihood for everyone. Despite this, small glimmers of hope are seen where women from Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) are increasingly taking on leadership roles within their communities and men are beginning to engage more in household chores.
The Women (in VSLAs) Respond data includes the voices of 4,185 members (3,266 women and girls) in Burundi, Ethiopia, Mali Nigeria, Niger and Uganda. This initiative sought to assess how VSLA members, both as individuals and groups, are affected by the pandemic and how they responded and adapted to cope with the crisis. The data specifically looks at the impact on individuals and their needs, as well as how groups have been affected, and how they have adapted.
Far from being over, the consequences of this pandemic continue to wreak havoc amongst members and their communities. Since 2020, livelihood has been the impact women say is most important, and the impact has steadily increased as the pandemic unfolded (35% in the first data collection and 43% in the fourth). Other top impact areas are food security, education, access to healthcare (including mental health) and water, sanitation and hygiene. Respondents are reporting job losses, limited job opportunities and reduced business activities, all as a result of the pandemic. Those who are engaged in farming reported losing much of their revenue as people are not able to purchase food items as they were before the pandemic. Respondents also reported that lockdowns affected farming operations and livelihoods due to their inability to source fertilizers and transport farm produce.
While in some countries, VSLA members were able to continue their individual savings, in most, the pandemic had a lasting effect on their ability to save. The global average shows that 35% of respondents are still managing to save the same amount as before the pandemic; however, 45% reported that they experienced lower personal savings since the pandemic. The level of available assistance is falling short, and VSLA members are resorting to various coping mechanisms to survive the pandemic, including selling assets, borrowing from extended family and neighbors, food rationing and relying on in-kind or cash assistance.
In our qualitative interviews in all six countries, women say they are more stressed about their finances and their children’s education than they were before COVID-19. Despite the multifaceted challenges VSLA members are coping with, when we compare global-level data between women who are in VSLAs to women who are not, we see greater resilience among women in VSLAs.
In the face of multiple restrictions, VSLA groups have still found adapted ways to keep their groups running, such as meeting digitally or only having VSLA leaders meet. As a result, 85% of VSLA members are still meeting, 60% of VSLA groups are still saving and around 63% are providing loans to members, despite the financial and livelihood challenges they are facing.
VSLA members frequently volunteered their skills to provide information about COVID-19 and prevention measures within their communities. This includes sharing messaging, as well as developing businesses making masks and soap.
Despite the pandemic, respondents said their VSLAs are still their greatest source of support, offering solidarity and mutual aid. On average, 66% of groups are using their social funds — ordinarily reserved for social events and activities — to support their members financially and with buying food and hygiene materials. Despite this, they are still struggling and need more support.
Read more findings on the study here: https://www.care.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Women-in-VSLA-Respond_Final-Report_June-2022.pdf.