Food Coalition

Fostering gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls in the wake of COVID-19

As shown by emerging evidence on the COVID-19 pandemic, women are expected be hit harder by the economic impacts of the crisis as they generally earn less, save less and hold more insecure jobs in the informal economy. In the Arab region, the pandemic is expected to result in the loss of 1.7 million jobs, most of which in sectors dominated by women (UNESCWA 2020).

In the agriculture sector, the pandemic poses a serious threat to both rural women and men’s livelihoods, by hindering their engagement in economic activities as farmers, processors and traders. However, rural women’s unequal access to assets, technologies and services - which in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region is still profound - make them particularly vulnerable to economic downturns. Rural women in the region also tend to have very limited access to social protection programmes that can help them cope in times of crises.

In the context of the pandemic, the increased demand for care work is deepening existing inequalities in the gender division of labor, adding to women’s excessive burden of unpaid care and household responsibilities. As documented in the case of other epidemics, young women and girls will be particularly affected, as they are more likely than their male counterparts to be pulled out of school and the labour market to compensate for increased care and domestic work. As a result of households’ economic distress and food insecurity, girls may also face an increased risk of forced or early marriage.

At a time in which many households are forced to switch to less nutritious food or reduce the number of meals eaten daily, discriminatory gender norms - which prioritize men and boys’ well-being - put women and girls at higher risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.  With the imposed social isolation, women and girls’ vulnerability to domestic violence - currently experienced by 37 percent of women in Arab countries - is also expected to increase (UN ESCWA and UN Women, 2020), while recourses and protection mechanisms, especially in rural areas, continue to be absent or unable to absorb the surge in cases. 

The impact of the crisis on women who live in the conflict-affected countries of the region is also of particular concern. In these contexts, women and girls have had their access to livelihoods and essential services severely restricted even before the COVID-19 outbreak and may find themselves unable to cope with the health and economic impacts of the current crisis.

Priority Areas of work: Economic Inclusion and Social Protection to Reduce Poverty
SDG: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 5. Gender Equality, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 10. Reduced Inequality
Level: Regional
Region: Near East and North Africa
Country: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, West Bank & Gaza Strip, Yemen
Budget: USD 1.5 million


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