Women are leading the fight against the pandemic as health and care workers but face higher risks.

In the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis, it was often said that the coronavirus does not discriminate: after all, anyone can catch it.

Yet as the pandemic unfolds it has become clear that the coronavirus does not impact society equally in terms of risks to lives or livelihoods.

Prospera is highlighting the gender dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis so that policymakers do not overlook the particular challenges that women face.

“Women are on the frontline of Indonesia’s fight against Covid-19 but are also among the most at risk when it comes to the financial impact,” said Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, Prospera’s lead gender adviser.

Sixty-eight percent of health and care workers looking after the sick are women. Among doctors and nurses, the proportion of women is even greater, at 74%.

These women face a high risk of contracting the disease themselves through close contact with patients in hospital wards and intensive-care units.

Health and care workers cannot do their jobs from home and so continue to commute to work to care for the sick.

Women are more likely to use crowded public transport such as buses and trains than men. This puts them at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus and passing it to their families.

The economic impact of Covid-19 is not felt equally across society, either.

Indonesia’s poorer households have few savings and live precariously even in ordinary times. Households headed by women are the poorest of all and have only around half the assets of households headed by men.

Women are typically the primary carers for children. School closures mean many will do additional unpaid work looking after families. This could deprive single mothers of their sole source of income.

Many of the poor work in Indonesia’s vast shadow economy. Small informal businesses have few cash reserves, limited inventories and they cannot obtain bank loans to get them through hard times.

Around 70% of the small businesses owned by women do not generate enough profit to keep a family of four out of poverty, according to Prospera analysis.

A sudden loss of income could mean ruin for these businesses and the households that depend on them to make ends meet.

Women are also overrepresented in industries under the greatest pressure from the restrictions imposed to control Covid-19. Fifty-nine percent of workers in the hospitality sector are women, for instance.

The government has announced a package of measures aimed at supporting poorer households. Yet tax cuts and interest relief will do little to help informal workers who do not pay tax or take out loans.

Social-assistance schemes such as Kartu Pra Kerja, which provides recipients with monthly transfers of Rp600,000 (A$63), are aimed at informal workers.

Accessing the scheme is difficult, however, with applicants required to pass an 18-question online skills test before they receive any money.

Women running small businesses may not have the internet access or digital literacy needed to complete the test.

Prospera is supporting the government to refine this and other schemes so that they reach the most vulnerable groups in society, including women.

“Indonesia has responded to the coronavirus with one of the largest fiscal packages among developing economies,” Ms Sijapati Basnett said.

“The policy response must reach society’s most vulnerable groups.”