Some 83 per cent women farmers of 14 countries in Africa and Asia including Bangladesh reported a loss of livelihoods during the pandemic, with 65 per cent saying they are experiencing food shortages, according to a study.
Saying that Covid-19 related market closures and lockdowns have severely affected earnings and food security, the early findings by ActionAid research unveiled that more than half (55 per cent) of women’s unpaid care and domestic work has increased during the pandemic.
The research was conducted in 14 countries including Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe by ActionAid.
The research titled “The Covid-19 Food Crisis Research Monitoring Report” was released on occasion of World Food Day 2020.
Speaking about the violence women are facing in her community, Yandeh Gissey, a smallholder farmer from Upper Niumi in The Gambia, said: “We are witnessing physical abuse to women and girls by men. Especially where the women used to provide for the family and now they cannot, the husband is always violent.”
In Malawi, Alinafe Nkhoma, a smallholder farmer in Phalombe district in Malawi has struggled to find enough nutritious food for her family since losing her livelihood to Cyclone Idai that has destroyed her farmland in 2019. This year, her harvest was affected by drought and now the global pandemic has further affected her ability to sell produce.
To survive and feed her family, she walks for four hours to gather Mikawa, a wild poisonous tuber, which has to be boiled for six hours before it is safe to eat.
“Due to hunger in the area, the scramble for the wild tubers has become high,” she said. “On a daily basis there about 100 families in the mountains digging for tubers and one has to count themselves lucky if they find the tubers in good time.”
Women already on the frontlines of the climate crisis, are bearing the brunt of rising hunger due to Covid-19 as they skip meals so that their children can eat and also face rising levels of gender-based violence, the study finds.
The report points out how measures to control Covid-19 are affecting the lives of women smallholder farmers across 14 countries in Africa and Asia. It also shows how market closures, travel restrictions and soaring food prices are negatively affecting rural communities and jeopardising the next planting season.
Catherine Gutundu, ActionAid’s head of resilient livelihoods and climate justice, said: “Around the world, Covid-19 has left women farmers indebted and hungry. Many of them now can't afford to plant for the next season. A dangerous spiral of increasing hunger and poverty could set in unless governments urgently increase their support to family farmers now.”
ActionAid also called on governments to prioritise investment in sustainable, climate-resilient local food systems as part of Covid-19 recovery plans.
The report summary, based on a survey of 190 women farmers and local leaders in September, finds women are prioritising their children’s needs over their own, many reported skipping meals or eating smaller portions, so their families have enough to eat. 58 per cent of women said members of their household skipped meals during lockdown.
More than half (52 per cent) of respondents said there has been an increase in gender-based violence such as men forcefully taking money from their wives among many others. They have also been victims of rising incidents of police harassing women and girls, and difficulties in reporting cases of violence to relevant authorities, the study said.
Some 64 per cent of women said lockdown had made women and girls more susceptible to abuse and exploitation, it added.