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Women transport workers have borne the brunt of the impact from Covid-19

24 Nov 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns and restrictions wrought havoc on the livelihood of workers all over the world. The impacts of this are still being felt, and will continue to be for some time. 

But while it has been challenging for everyone, the reality is that the impact has been profoundly unequal.

A new report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in West and Central Africa, released today by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), shows how women transport workers have been disproportionately impacted.

The report, Impact of Covid-19 on women transport workers in West and Central Africa, shows how women workers suffered a disproportionate loss of livelihoods, were forced to shoulder an unequal share of unpaid caring and domestic responsibilities, and faced increased violence and harassment both at work and at home. 

Impacts of the pandemic on women workers are long-term and have potential risk to lead to systemic exclusion of women from decent jobs in the transport sector.  

In Nigeria, a railway worker shared how she was turned away from her workplace:

“When it came back, men came on board and women were told to stay at home. We asked the boss, please allow us to come back, we have to feed our children. But the boss said – no, use what you have to get what you want – sell yourself.” 

In Senegal, a Merchant Navy worker disclosed how women workers are forced to put up with harassment at work so that they can continue to earn a living: 

“Since some women workers are financially constrained...and have very heavy burdens...the woman will be forced to give in involuntarily to some harassment attempts.”

In Ghana, a Youth and Gender officer heard reports of increasing domestic violence:

“Because women are locked up in the house holed up with their spouses, often women experience abuse from them. When I talk to women in the maritime sector, they tell you that they want an escape route. They want to leave home and come to work.”

Another public transport worker in Ghana said unequal childcare duties took a heavy toll:

“It wasn’t easy at all combining work with taking care of the kids because schools were closed for one year and it is very expensive getting a nanny...We have to rely on neighbours to help with the kids, but we can’t do that because it means adding another workload to them.”

Despite the enormous challenges, however, transport unions and women trade unionists have continued to play an essential role to secure livelihoods, ensure compliance with health and safety measures and take action to address violence and harassment.

This report contains four urgent recommendations for how trade unions can work with governments and employers to address the impacts of the pandemic on women transport workers and to integrate this into the Covid-19 response and recovery, and how unions can use Convention C190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work as a tool to help eliminate violence from transport workplaces.

These recommendations cover the unique challenges faced by women workers, tackling issues around violence and harassment, ensuring gender equality within the trade union movement, and centering a gender perspective in crisis management policies.

The full report can be read here.