Policy seminar: What is needed for gender-sensitive COVID-19 responses in agriculture and food security?

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By Khiem Nguyen

COVID-19 is posing new challenges to efforts to promote women’s empowerment, threatening to undo some recent progress in women’s nutrition and health. Meanwhile, the pandemic has sparked widespread interventions by governments and organizations that need a gender focus. A May 21 IFPRI virtual event explored ways to make these responses in agriculture and food security gender-sensitive.

Starting off the discussion, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Agnes Quisumbing pointed to lessons from previous crises and pandemics as guidance to come up with gender-sensitive COVID-19 responses. “Crises and pandemics are not new and it’s not surprising that when large scale crises happen, they tend to affect the already vulnerable and make it worse for them,” Quisumbing said, citing severe impacts on women during the 2007-2008 food crisis and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Developing gender-sensitive policies is complex and there is no one-size-fits all approach, Quisumbing said: “Context matters, because gender is a very context-specific thing. It really varies by culture and society.”

The presenters then outlined gender-specific challenges that different countries face in confronting the pandemic, and potential policy solutions.

In Bangladesh and Uganda, Quisumbing said, women’s assets are less protected than men’s. When health or economic shocks hit, women’s assets are more vulnerable and the first to be liquidated. In order to protect and empower women in such uncertain times, governments should develop gender-sensitive social protection programs and help women rebuild their assets during recovery.

In India, the government’s COVID-19 lockdown led to serious losses for small farmers, reducing some crop yields by more than half. Markets also closed, aggravating farmers’ financial losses. In response, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) appealed to national and state governments to declare minimum crisis support for these crops, arrange for local procurement at villages, and give every farmer 2,000 rupees ($26), SEWA Director Reema Nanavaty said.

Photo Credit: Atul Loke/Panos Pictures

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