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Gendered impacts of COVID-19 and equitable policy responses in agriculture, food security and nutrition

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As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, many countries are adopting measures to control the spread of the virus. While the health aspects of the pandemic have not affected rural areas as much as urban centres, containment measures pose new challenges to rural women with regard to their roles in maintaining household food security, as agricultural producers, farm managers, processors, traders, wage workers and entrepreneurs. Past experience shows that rural women are disproportionally affected by health and economic crises in a number of ways, including but not limited to food security and nutrition, time poverty, access to health facilities, services and economic opportunities, and gender-based violence. Further, COVID-19 is increasing women’s work burden due to school closures and the additional care needs of sick household members.

This brief compiles evidence from current and previous epidemics to explore the socioeconomic implications of the impact of this pandemic on food systems and rural economies, and how a gender-sensitive approach can help address key policy issues related to the functioning of food and agricultural systems and the special circumstances of rural women. It also provides concrete policy recommendations to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on rural women and girls.

Key messages

• Rural women face greater constraints than men in accessing productive resources, services, technologies, markets, financial assets and local institutions, which makes them more vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to contain it.

• The effects of the pandemic are disproportionately affecting rural women’s productive, reproductive and income-generating capacities because it tends to reduce their economic opportunities and access to nutritious foods while at the same time increasing their workloads and escalating gender-based violence.

• Policy responses should consider women’s roles in agri-food systems and ensure that their multiple needs – as guardians of household food security, food producers, farm managers, processors, traders, wage workers and entrepreneurs – are adequately addressed.

• Rural women are key in producing, processing and trading food and agricultural products, and the COVID-19 pandemic tends to affect their agricultural activities more severely than those of men. It is crucial to adopt special measures to support rural women’s engagement in the agri-food value chains.

• Women are often constrained in their access to social protection programmes, such as cash transfers, public work programmes and asset transfers. Designing and delivering gender-sensitive social protection measures is key to reduce risks and ensure that rural women can equally benefit from such interventions.

• The tensions associated with stay-at-home measures and economic closures increase levels of gender-based violence. It is crucial to identify the most vulnerable women and girls (as well as men and boys) and develop measures to reduce their exposure to risks and increase their access to support services.

• Investing in women’s leadership and engaging them in the design and implementation of COVID-19 response strategies is critical to ensure that their perspectives and needs are adequately considered.

• Supporting gender analysis and sex- and age-disaggregated data is an integral part of monitoring gender-related impacts and informing the design of response measures that adequately consider and address the differentiated needs and priorities of rural women and men.