Written by Rumbidzai Ndoro and Omar Elsharkawy from FAO.
This blog summarises the findings, insights and recommendations shared by our expert panel of speakers during the webinar “Gendered impacts of COVID-19 and social protection responses in rural areas", which was held on August 27, 2020. The speakers were Máximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization; Susan Kaaria, Senior Gender Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization; Zahra Lillian Mokgosi, Programme Policy Advisor, World Food Programme; H.E. Nivine El-Kabbag, Minister of Social Solidarity, Government of Egypt; Renana Jhabvala, Chairperson Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Bharat, India; and Rohie Bittaye-Darboe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Government of The Gambia. Benjamin Davis, Director, Division for Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equity, Food and Agriculture Organization, moderated the webinar.
COVID-19 and gender inequality
Máximo Torero began the webinar by making it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is gender biased. Before the world was hit with COVID-19, there were already high levels of gender inequality in agriculture. The gender inequalities that shaped the lives of rural women and girls prior to the pandemic have led to rural women bearing a disproportionate burden in the COVID-19 crisis. He noted that rural women’s businesses have been negatively affected, exacerbated by lower global demand, plummeting prices of goods and reduced capacities to farm the next season. Rural women in agriculture are hit especially hard as many jobs typically done by women in packaging, food processing, and transportation have been lost. Compounding this, women’s unpaid care and domestic work burden has increased as schools close. Meanwhile, staggering increases in gender-based violence (GBV) around the world threaten human rights. Finally, rural women are less likely to have access to and benefit from social protection that would reduce their vulnerability to shocks such as COVID-19.
Gender and social protection
Social protection has been touted as a tool to reduce the burden of those affected directly and indirectly by COVID-19. Susan Kaaria highlighted the critical role that social protection can play in the lives of rural women and girls, but only if it is designed with gender in mind. There have been at least 1,005 social protection measures put in place by countries throughout the world to respond to COVID-19. However, only 11 percent show a degree of gender sensitivity. Due to informality and interrupted work histories, rural women are less likely to have access to social protection than their male or urban counterparts. They may also be less likely to benefit from social protection when they can access it, due to limited decision-making and bargaining power within the household. Social protection programming that is designed without consideration for gender can even exacerbate gender inequalities, for example, by relying on the unpaid labor of women. Susan Kaaria highlighted FAO evidence on the gendered impacts of social assistance showing that this type of programming can have positive effects for women, but this is not automatic. Empowerment goals must be built into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of social protection and complementary programing is often needed.
Susan Kaaria cited the FAO policy brief on gendered impacts of COVID-19 in providing examples of gender-sensitive social protection interventions. These include but are not limited to: (1) conducting gender and vulnerability analyses as there is little data being collected on the impacts of COVID-19 on women; (2) setting up social assistance measures such cash transfers targeted at women and girls; (3) putting in place work programmes that require minimum quotas for women’s participation.
Zahra Lillian Mokgosi complemented Susan Kaaria in saying that gender-sensitive approaches are not entirely sufficient, it is important to strive for gender-transformative approaches that address the root causes of gender inequalities. Applying this concept to the context of The Gambia, Zahra Lillian Mokgosi explored the challenges and opportunities for rural Gambian women during the COVID-19 pandemic and explained the role of the World Food Programme in the country, including in the crisis response.
Gendered social protection in action
Some countries have provided positive examples of gender-sensitive social protection in the context of COVID-19. H.E Nivine El-Kabbag, Minister of Social Solidarity in the Government of Egypt, outlined many social protection interventions the government of Egypt has put in place to reduce the burden inflicted on rural women by COVID-19. These measures included direct cash transfers to the most vulnerable, including elderly women, lactating women, pregnant women, and women living with disabilities. They have also launched an online portal for inquiries and complaints of women during this period to better understand their needs.
Renana Jhabvala, Chairperson of SEWA Bharat in India highlighted the role that rural women have played in supporting their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraging the network of members of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), rural women in India have been supplementing formal social protection with many positive results. Despite this, Renana Jhabvala noted there is still more to be done. Her organization has been hearing from women that while the Indian Government has been giving out food staples as a form of social protection, there is a need for vegetables, medicine, and other supplies. Because of these restraints, women’s needs during this time can only fully be met by cash transfers. There is also a need for long-term structural change. Renana Jhabvala underlined how women often rely on public transportation to get to their fields, and given the closure of many services due to COVID-19, many crops were left to rot in the fields as the women farmers were unable to get there while many men often had their own form of transportation.
Rohie Bittaye-Darboe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare in the Government of The Gambia provided a detailed picture of the current impacts of COVID-19 on rural economies, highlighting how Gambian women are experiencing the brunt of the pandemic’s burden. Women are more likely to experience negative economic outcomes compared to men in part because most women work in the informal sector and the majority of the jobs they occupy are small-to-medium enterprises (particularly in the tourism sector which has shrunk due to travel restrictions and limited travel). Food security has also been threatened by the pandemic as measures meant for virus containment have limited movement, closed markets and shut down schools. In addition, the incidence of GBV has been on the rise where women have less access to health facilities due to fear and lack of information. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare recognizes how women are one of the most vulnerable groups and has enacted a series of programmes targeted at women and girls. There is now a programme of food assistance disbursement which involves food rations of rice, oil and sugar for 89 percent of all households in the country. Women with disabilities have received sanitary material while healthcare centers for children have received particular attention to provide uninterrupted healthcare services. The Ministry has also launched a GBV hotline as law enforcement does not always respond to urgent cases fast enough. Rohie Bittaye-Darboe notes that social protection has become an important avenue to engage with other Ministries and civil society with the goal of reaching, benefitting and empowering Gambian women and girls.
Rural women and girls are essential to the recovery from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. They must be supported with adequate gender-sensitive social protection.
Speakers provided written answers to questions sent by the audience, the Q&A document is accessible here.
H.E. Nivine El-Kabbag has made this document available in response to one of the questions (specified in the document) from the audience.
This blog summarises the twenty-ninth webinar of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IG, GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the socialprotection.org platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations. Join the online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' to learn more about the initiative and future webinars.
The SPIAC-B Gender Working Group, consisting of representatives from several agencies, including UNICEF, DFID, FAO, IPC-IG, UNICEF Innocenti, UN Women among others, is organising webinars of the larger Social Protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series. You can join the Gender-Responsive Social Protection Online Community if you are interested in learning about the gender impacts of COVID-19.