CGIAR Gender

Why gender matters in COVID-19 responses – now and in the future

Controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in low- and middle-income countries will require applying basic health, hygiene, and physical distancing measures well. Daily implementation of these will largely depend on women, but they face many obstacles men do not. Neha Kumar, Agnes Quisumbing, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Claudia Ringler provide lessons and evidence on how women can be empowered to play these roles within the gender dynamic contexts they face—and in ensuring the crisis does not roll back recent gains.—John McDermott, series co-editor and Director, CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

To contain the spread of COVID-19, health ministries and the World Health Organization (WHO) are advising everyone to keep up to date on latest developments, wash hands frequently, stay at home, and practice physical distancing when outside the home.1 These recommendations are inconveniences for most people in the United States or Europe, but for many in developing countries, even these basic precautions will be difficult to implement.

Here are some of ways these health recommendations affect women and men differently in developing countries, particularly in rural areas—and some ideas for how to address the disparities.

Stay informed

WHO recommends that everyone stay informed to obtain the most up-to-date information on COVID-19. This is a particular challenge for rural women, who have lower literacy and numeracy rates and less access to modern information and communication technologies. Mobile phones are seemingly ubiquitous, yet out of more than 2 billion people in low and middle-income countries, only 82% of women own one—meaning 393 million are excluded, mostly in rural South Asia and Africa. Even women with access may not have their own phones, and tend to use a smaller range of services.

Key barriers for women include affordability; literacy and skills to use the device; safety and security (including personal safety) when using the device; and lack of family approval. The gender gap tends to be particularly high in rural areas. To address these disparities, IFPRI, together with partners in Kenya (Groots Kenya), India (Self-Employed Women’s Association-SEWA) and Uganda’s extension service, is testing alternative ways to reach women farmers with information, including WhatsApp, posters and videos. Some countries and organizations are providing free cellphones or airtime to women to support them during the crisis. 

Continue reading this blog on the IFPRI website.