Food Coalition

Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to push 23 million additional people into poverty in Africa due to job and income losses. Women in Africa remain the majority of the poor, the landless, the unemployed, those working in the informal sector, and those shouldering the burden of care. As a result, women and girls are more likely to experience the negative effects of COVID-19 related measures, such as closure of borders and markets and curfews. For example in West African countries, women with small businesses, especially those selling food in markets, near offices, and in schools have seen drops in their incomes. Borders closures and market limitations have had significant impacts on informal traders, predominantly women.

With the imposed social isolation and the heightened social and economic pressures and tensions at home, women and girls have also been affected by increases in gender based violence (GBV), whilst recourse and protection mechanisms unable to accomodate the surge in cases when they are not absent altogether. As a result of movement restrictions, suspension of schools and increasing numbers of sick people, the burden of care work has also significantly augmented, impacting women’s mental and physical health and putting them at higher risk of infection.  At the same time, rural women and girls in many parts of Africa are struggling to access health services as governments and health clinics have diverted energy and attention away from Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights services. The economic shock will also have ripple effects on girls who are pulled out of schools to help out at home, or married off early to relieve the family of another mouth to feed, which in turn increases the probability of child or teenage pregnancies. There is also the risk of families resorting to negative coping strategies such as exposing women and girls to transactional sex.

Gender equality gains made in the past decades could be lost and existing gender and social inequalities exacerbated. Furthermore, women and girls and their organisations are often excluded from community-level decision-making and governance structures including around response strategies during humanitarian crises. As a result, women and girls are disproportionately affected while not being able to contribute to and benefit form response planning and implementation. Building back better wil not be achieved unless attention is paid to issues affecting women and girls’ well being, including GBV, their socio-economic participation, voice and decision-making power.

In Africa women make up about 50 percent of the agricultural labour force and are key players in food systems and central to the social reproduction of households and communities. Furthermore, about 80 percent of the midstream agricultural value chains are comprised of very small and small and medium enterprises, with women dominating in the processing, distribution and marketing of food crops in many countries. While important for food security and poverty reduction and contributing 30-40% of value added and costs in food value chains, these businesses, which are predominantly informal and small or self-employed especially for women, are often hidden from policy debate and measures, including the response to COVID-19. Yet, they are essential in the food system transformation agenda as they provide income for rural women and their families and an importance source part of offfarm rural employment, especially for youth.

Boosting the resilience and empowerment of rural women who comprise the hidden middle of value chains is an effective strategy to promote long term recovery of households, communities and food systems. Not only has this been shown to impact positively the performance of value chains and productive capacity of small farms, but also to have the potential to generate 25% of rural employment in the midstream and downstream.

While adversely affected, rural women have found ways to continue producing food for their families and others, kept their businesses in value chains afloat, engaging in new forms of solidarity, continued trading and organizing their savings and credit groups by adapting, differentiating and applying digital solutions. These initiatives need to be strengthened, scaled up and built into processes that create the ground for builing back better towards sustainable and inclusive food systems. At the same time, there is an urgent need to address the existing gender gaps in access to productive resources, services, technology and information and to free women and girls from GBV. For this to happen, action is also needed to foster the transformation of patriarchal gender and power norms and relations that marginalize rural women and girls and to promote the recognition of the unpaid care economy with the engagement of men and boys.

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, 14. Life Below Water, 17. Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Level: Regional
Region: Africa
Country: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone
Budget: USD 1 million


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