It’s now becoming clear that women have been hit hardest by pandemic job losses. But the Australian Government has a rare opportunity to invest in sustainable businesses that will get these highly-motivated women back into work, with benefits that amplify throughout their entire communities.

The coronavirus pandemic has delivered a dual crises to both Australia’s public health and economy. Women are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of this because they are over-represented in the areas of economy most impacted – in casual employment, for example, as well as the industries that have been hardest hit such as retail and hospitality.

The latest unemployment and underemployment data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirms this, revealing women have lost their jobs at a rate 34 per cent faster than men, and paid working hours have fallen 50 per cent faster.

Sadly, these consequences are likely to affect the most vulnerable women even more, magnifying the existing challenges they face and placing them at unprecedented financial risk. Single mother households were already twice as likely to be in poverty as their male counterparts before the crisis, according to research by ACOSS. The gendered nature of this crisis will only deepen this divide.

Even worse, all signs indicate this is unlikely to be the last pandemic of this type that we face in the foreseeable future.

It’s clear we need recovery measures that will not only help to rebuild our economy now, but which will help future-proof us against the impact of future economic shocks. While the government has announced and implemented a number of effective stimulus measures designed to support individual, households and businesses, these likely can’t be maintained indefinitely.

Furthermore, pandemic control measures have forced radical shifts in even large corporations, and many of these changes are now likely to stick. The silver lining to these changes is that they’ve proven, when given the support and flexibility they need, working women – including mothers – can deliver exceptional value and performance to employers.

Put simply, the spike in unemployment, underemployment, increased vulnerability for casual workers and winding back of government support measure means that Global Sisters’ focus on helping women become successfully self-employed is more important than ever.

The Australian Government has already recognised the need to support businesses to lead the way through recovery. In May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “We must enable our businesses to earn our way out of this crisis. That means focusing on the things that can make our businesses go faster.”

However, most economic measures to date – including infrastructure funding and the Homebuilders Grant – have focused on male-dominated industries. Directing tailored funding and support toward women-led businesses delivers proportionately greater benefits because they serve the dual purpose of accelerating economic recovery while also supporting the group of people (and their families) most acutely impacted by the crisis.

Global Sisters already works with thousands of women, providing the tools, networks and resources to establish or grow their businesses. It has the proven and established capacity, experience and systems in place to extend additional resources to thousands more in this challenging time.

To date, these efforts have seen the organisation work with over 2,600 individual women, with over 1900 participants in the My Big Idea workshop – a vocational discovery program, and almost 600 women successfully graduating from Sister School – a tailored business skills course. Already, around 223 businesses are currently operating.

These participants include women like:

Aysha Navlakhi, who is running her own event catering company, Events by Aysha. Since finding Global Sisters three years ago, she’s completed the My Big Idea workshop and Sister School. The coronavirus pandemic provided her with an opportunity to successfully pivot her business into producing high-quality pre-packaged meals.

Jo-Ann Wolles, a Wiradjuri woman, who has drawn on her Indigenous heritage and training as a professional chef to create her business, Goanna Hut. She crafts premium-quality teas, using a variety of mainstream and native ingredients, which led to being nominated by Global Sisters for an AMP Tomorrow Maker Award. Now, Jo-Ann has just had three of her products picked up for sale through the national T2 chain.

Nikki Hind, who is believed to be Australia’s first legally-blind fashion designer. Gaining independence and confidence after completing Sister School, she entered and won the ING Dreamstarter scholarship. Now she’s participating and contributing to her thriving rural community and is well on the way to achieving financial wellbeing through her business Blind Grit.

Women just like Aysha, Jo-Ann and Nikki, who have worked with Global Sisters, emerge from its programs with improved financial independence, security and resilience; and are better empowered to contribute to the rebuilding of growth and jobs in the economy.

The financial and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has become a greater problem for Australia’s women, and solving that for the betterment of the entire community requires a female-oriented solution.

Over the course of the past few months, and through all its work prior, Global Sisters has proven it has the vision, skilled team, networks and infrastructure to perform a leading role in the recovery.