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Women Lead Through the Hunger Pandemic

A woman in an apron and head scarf holds a tray filled with green vegetables.

Photo: CARE

Photo: CARE

“With the lockdown affecting people’s ability to sell their products, and with the lack of food,” says Um Muhammed of Palestine, “I launched an initiative with the women of Jalamah. It started as an ad hoc WhatsApp group, where I offered to exchange extra fertilizer for pesticide for my tomatoes. In no time, women started to follow, offering other inputs and suggesting exchange of produce too!”

“The initiative has created a sense of community,” she continues. “The WhatsApp group has become a source of information, knowledge and experience. And we [provide] social support. With the no-human-to-human interaction, the group has bonded and become a platform for sharing thoughts and feelings, something that’s of huge importance during a crisis.”

Um’s story is just one of the amazing stories of women leading through the COVID-19 crisis, and finding ways to use the resources they can access to solve the real food crisis they are facing. CARE’s new report on women, hunger, and COVID: Left Out and Left Behind showcases both the challenges women like Um are facing, and the ways they are banding together to solve their problems. The report is one in a series of documents from CARE that help us bring global attention to what we know about women’s experiences in COVID-19, and how the global response needs to change to better support these women leaders.

CARE is working around the world to help these women find solutions. We’ve supported more than 1.5 million people to get nutritious food, provided cash or vouchers to more than 515,000 people, and helped more than 2.6 million people access clean water.

A woman in a straw hat picks leaves in a field of crops.
Amalia Batallones is a farmer in San Dionisio, Iloilo in the Philippines. Photo: CARE

What are we learning?

  • Food Insecurity is rising everywhere: The number of people experiencing food insecurity in Latin America has tripled, and West and Central African food insecure populations have more than doubled. In Southern Africa, the food insecure population has increased by as much as 90%. Ethiopia estimates that 9 million more people will need food assistance. In the U.S., at least 6 million people have registered for food benefits since the start of the pandemic. In the UK, one in four adults are struggling to access affordable food.
  • Unequal food systems are putting more pressure on women. In Afghanistan, women and men are both missing meals, but women are missing one more day of meals each week than men. In Mali, curfews related to the COVID-19 pandemic restrict the times women work in the fields, but not the hours men work, so women disproportionately struggle with food production. In Morocco, women cannot even register for COVID-19 safety net programs unless they are widowed.
  • Pressure on women is also showing up as violence. As one district commissioner in Uganda said, “There is food crisis everywhere, and this is even causing violence in families.” Experts around the world are noting that women increasingly turn to transactional sex and families resort to child marriage to cope with COVID-19-related food shortages.
  • Global policy response are ignoring women. CARE’s analyzed 73 global reports proposing solutions to the hunger pandemic. Nearly half of the reports—46%—do not refer to women and girls at all. None of the reports consistently analyze or reflect the gendered effects of the pandemic and hunger crises. Only 5 reports—less than 7%—propose concrete actions to resolve the gender inequalities crippling food systems. The rest overlook or ignore women and girls.
  • Women are already leading. Women around the world are finding ways to work together to lead in this moment, and we need to support them. “Most importantly, we are able to eat our own produce, and we can save for more important needs. Since we have our own crops in our backyard, we still eat three times a day. We give our extra supply of vegetables to our neighbours if we know they have limited resources for that day.” — Amalia Batallones (Philippines)

Countries with female leaders have 1/6 the number of COVID-19 deaths as those led by men

Where do we go nextt?

  • Meet immediate and medium-term needs. We need to focus on getting women the support they need to feed their families and produce food for the next harvest. We also advocate for governments to scale up their COVID-19 responses and ensure that they are reaching women and women farmers with those programs. We ask that responses focus specifically on keeping agricultural production running and helping women access markets.
  • Be transparent. CARE calls for donors, UN agencies, and governments publicly commit that all funding supports gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment, and at least half of food and nutrition security funding supports women and girls directly.
  • Recognize women leaders. We need to recognize women and girls as leaders in food systems and to ensure that they have equal rights and equal access to resources as producers and consumers. That’s not just a critical part of CARE’s programming; it’s also a vital piece of our advocacy agenda to ensure that donors, governments, and the UN do the same thing.
  • Keep women in the picture. Include at least one gender expert on all COVID-19 response teams—at national and local levels—and ensure that all decisions and data in these committees are based on solid gender analysis. We need to ask women and girls what they want to see in the response, and build our responses around what they need.

Want to learn more?

Read (and share) the full report: Left Out and Left Behind

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