The feminine face of the pandemic’s impact in Paraguay

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Paraguayan woman holding a baby girl. Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – LAC (2021).

If there is something that we tend to overlook more than we should, it is the impact of crises on people’s mental health.  The High-Frequency Phone Survey (a World Bank initiative), conducted in the Latin American and Caribbean countries, indicated that, as of June 2021, Paraguay was the country with the highest percentage of its population (62%) reporting having felt anxiety, uneasiness, or concern in the thirty days preceding the interview.

Percentage of people who reporting having felt anxiety, uneasiness, or concern in the past thirty days, by country.
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – LAC (2021).


Delving deeper, the data behind this figure reveal that seven out of ten women reported being afflicted with anxiety, while for men the proportion was five out of ten.  This trend persists when the data are disaggregated by area of residence; that is, women in both urban and rural areas have had their mental health impacted in greater proportions than men.

Percentage of people who reported having felt anxiety in the past 30 days, by gender.
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – Paraguay (2021).

What caused these negative outcomes? The survey reveals that the high levels of anxiety, uneasiness, and concern in Paraguay are correlated with two critical points where gender disparities are typically more visible: increased responsibilities at home (such as caring for a sick family member), and disadvantages in the workplace (such as treatment at work and unemployment).

Impact on the care economy

As expected, the expansion of the care economy as a result of the pandemic was disproportionately led by women: 52% reported experiencing an increase in unpaid work at home, compared to only 33% of men. The activities that required the most attention were schooling assistance and child care, followed by domestic chores such as doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning, in addition to caring for other adults.


Percentage of the population who perceived an increase in domestic work during the pandemic, by gender.
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – Paraguay (2021).

For many women, the increase in domestic work during the pandemic meant an extra investment of time and effort on top of their already-heavy work schedules outside the home.  Thus, it is not surprising that more women with jobs reported they had experienced a steep increase in housework than did those who were unemployed (57% versus 38%).


Percentage of the population who perceived an increase in domestic work during the pandemic, by gender and labor status
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – Paraguay (2021).

Impact on women's employment and income

Consistent with the trends identified by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) of Paraguay through its most recent Permanent Household Survey, the High-Frequency Phone Survey showed that as of June, 2021, 56% of women had worked in the week previous to the interview, a lower percentage than that of men (78%). Although this represents a significant improvement over what was observed in May 2020, the recovery in this second year of the pandemic has undeniably been slower for women.

Labor trends, by gender
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – Paraguay (2020–2021).

One possible positive is the slight reduction in the percentage of women who lost their pre-pandemic jobs and were unemployed, which declined from 20% in May 2020 to 17% in June 2021. However, this figure is still higher than that of their “newly unemployed” male counterparts, even when men have experienced a significant rise in this indicator, going from 7% in 2020 to 14% in 2021.

Traditionally, being a woman and also a mother have been factors leading to discrimination at work.  This is reflected in the 2021 survey results, with 18% of working mothers claiming to have experienced uneven treatment at work since the pandemic began as a result of having children, compared to only 6% of men.

Percentage of the population who reported having felt unequal treatment in the workplace since the pandemic began for having children, by gender and labor status.
Source: High-Frequency Phone Survey – Paraguay (2021).

Finally, it should not be surprising that the existing wage gap between women and men widened due to the crisis. Even before the pandemic the disparity was visible, as evidenced by the 2021 survey results, with 63% of married or in-union working women claiming that, prior to the pandemic outbreak, they earned less than their partners. In contrast, only 12% of men reported that their partners made more money than they did.

What can be done?

Paraguay’s economic reactivation policies must include concrete initiatives aimed at progressively reversing the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women. It is essential to implement programs and systems that promote gender equality in the short, medium, and long term, tackling physical and mental health, the obligations of housework, employment satisfaction, and income.

It is critical to raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in the country’s economic development. The first step is to redefine domestic work as a shared obligation between men and women, with the government at the forefront as a promoter of public policies focused on the care economy. Such efforts must be accompanied by programs that encourage more and better opportunities for women in the workplace.   The Ministry of Women Affairs currently leads the Paraguayan government’s initiatives in this domain.

A post-pandemic recovery strategy that recognizes the importance of women’s contributions to development will result in not only better living conditions for women themselves, but also in a more productive economic climate and a healthier and more inclusive society.


Matilde Bordón

World Bank Representative in Paraguay

Gustavo Canavire-Bacarreza

Senior economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice

Luis Recalde-Ramírez

Consultant, Poverty and Equity Global Practice

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