FAO Regional Office for Africa

Gender-sensitive responses needed to COVID-19 in Africa

FAO’s Regional Office for Africa co-hosts policy and programme dialogue


23 November 2021, Accra - The ways in which crises affect men and women are shaped by intersecting vulnerabilities and social differences in socio-economic status, sex and gender identity, among others. Gender inequalities in access to and control over productive resources, services, and economic opportunities often cause women to bear a disproportionate burden of shocks. This has also been true throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, where women and girls, especially in rural and vulnerable contexts, have been more exposed to threats such as food insecurity, deprivation of education and consequently to early marriage. Governments, development agencies and civil society organisations (CSOs) face the challenge of developing and implementing gender-sensitive policies and programmes that respond to such impacts.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently joined efforts with the CGIAR GENDER Platform and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to explore gender-differentiated impacts of COVID-19 in the African region through a virtual policy dialogue. Stakeholders shared their experience and recommendations for the development of gender-sensitive programming and policymaking for building back better from COVID-19.

International organizations committed to addressing challenges faced by women

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, opened the event with an important message on African women’s challenges in the workplace:

“About 90 percent of women in Africa are employed in informal sectors, which means they are deprived of social protections. This has been strikingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, where more women than men have become economically inactive.”

Haile-Gabriel also highlighted that such economic discrepancies are exacerbated by the gender digital divide. In Africa, only 27 percent of women have access to the internet and only 15 percent of them can afford to use it.

Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Dr Maura Barry and African Union Commission (AUC) Head of Division Dr Janet Edeme echoed this message. They also underlined the reported increase in gender-based violence, child marriage and school drop-out among women and girls associated to the pandemic, re-stating USAID’s and AUC’s commitment to advancing gender equity, alongside FAO.

Designing COVID-19 response initiatives: Strengthened safety nets and relief and recovery initiatives moving forward

Dr Ranjitha Puskur, CGIAR Gender Platform Evidence Module Lead and International Rice Research Institute Research Leader, presented key findings from a study conducted in Ethiopia, Senegal and Zambia on gender-responsive measures in the agricultural sector to mitigate impacts of COVID-19. The study found that during the pandemic women in restrained economic situations, especially those in the informal market, suffered from food insecurity due to disrupted food supply chains and compromised income.

Women in the formal sector received economic assistance in the form of tax, rent and debt-relief, but little support was provided to those in informal working positions and in agricultural settings. Food assistance and direct cash loans played an important role in helping women get though the crisis, but there were few asset support measures put in place and women were not involved in policy development. Dr Puskur highlighted a number of preventative and alleviatory measures to be adopted in future crises, including:

  • increasing female access to finance and digital technology;
  • investing in women’s digital literacy;
  • engaging women’s collectives to channel resources to rural women;
  • equipping extension services to reach out to women during crises;
  • engaging women in policy and decision-making processes; and
  • investing in gender data for the strengthening of knowledge platforms.

IFPRI Senior Scientist Dr Elizabeth Bryan built on these recommendations, highlighting the need to immediately address income shocks through programmes and credit schemes that target poorer rural households and asset-building programmes catered to women.

Tailor-made support is essential in guaranteeing a successful recovery and in reducing the impact of shock on vulnerable groups. Three tools were underlined by Dr Nicoline de Haan, CGIAR GENDER Platform Director, to help achieve this, based on the dialogue: collecting and systematizing strong data and evidence, giving women a voice in decision-making processes, and ensuring the commitment of the international community to gender equity and women’s rights and needs.

Watch the event recording here (Passcode: COV2021+).