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10 May / 2020

Rural Women Bear the Brunt of the Impacts of COVID-19


Rural women are the backbone of agriculture and guardians of household food security in their communities. They make essential contributions as smallholder farmers, as unpaid labor on family farms, and as wage laborers, including as seasonal and informal workers on commercial farms. Especially as men become more involved in off-farm labor or move to urban centers for work, women are assuming a bigger share of agricultural production beyond their roles as principal household food producers and fuelwood and water collectors. They are also almost exclusively responsible for children’s nutrition.

Restrictions on the movement of people and goods — including border closures, lockdowns and other measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 — are disrupting agricultural value chains and food systems. While this affects rural farmers generally, women face barriers and disadvantages that make them less able to recover than men.

Women have weaker land tenure security and less access to productive resources than men, such as draught animals and mechanical tools. This lack of assets, coupled with their lower literacy rates and mobility and time constraints, often hinder women’s participation in agricultural extension programs and their access to credit and financial services. As markets close and cross-border trade declines, they suffer the double-whammy of not being able to sell their produce (or selling at very low prices), and lacking access to seeds, tools and other inputs needed for the next planting season.

Additionally, female agricultural workers — who make up about 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries — are over-represented in unpaid and low-paid seasonal or part-time jobs. They are less likely to be entitled to unemployment benefits when they lose their livelihoods due to lockdowns. Those who are informal workers because of their social status may be left out of social protection measures, such as cash transfers enacted in response to the pandemic.

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