Women During COVID-19Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, women have assumed positions of leadership in several fields to fight the virus. Women work hard at home to take care of their families, while also constituting a majority of those on the front lines in the global healthcare industry. They are discovering innovative new ways to generate income through agriculture, and are even manufacturing masks in refugee camps. Here are a few of the many heroic responsibilities undertaken by women during COVID-19.

Women at Home

Worldwide, almost 22% of women care for their families through unpaid labor, while only about 2% of men provide this kind of care. As caregivers at home, women play a crucial role in maintaining the safety of their families and communities. This task goes well beyond managing others’ physical health; women cook, clean, supervise children and elders and gather resources like water and wood. In addition, with lockdown measures, kids and other family members are home more often, increasing demands on these women.

Women in Healthcare

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women have taken the lead in providing medical care for patients. Because women make up 70% of the global healthcare and social services industries, many women have now become essential workers and hold the huge task of caring for patients, often at the expense of their own safety.

Healthcare workers like Dr. Entela Kolovani of Albania have been treating patients day and night since the pandemic hit in March. Women in healthcare are juggling several roles as they take care of those who are sick while trying to avoid endangering their families. Women are working longer hours and facing new challenges every day. In describing her nurses, Dr. Kolovani said, “Their work never ends, from making up the beds of patients, to performing therapies, taking tests and filling in documents. I am so deeply grateful to them.”

Women in Agriculture

The role of women during COVID-19 is not just limited to the healthcare field. Globally, nearly one out of every three women are employed in the agricultural industry; women in rural settings have inspired their communities to take safety precautions and earn income through farming. For example, in northwestern China, women in rural villages are ensuring compliance with social distancing practices are met and learning the trade of pig farming to earn extra income for their families. One such woman, Yan Shenglian, is training other women in this trade and teaching them the importance of women in the agricultural sector during COVID-19.

In addition, women in Cote d’Ivoire worked with UNICEF and the World Food Programme to spread health and sanitation measures to other women farmers. Along with the work already being done to encourage efficient farming practices, women in these rural villages are prioritizing food security and safety during COVID-19.

Women as Refugees

Of those affected by the pandemic, refugees have been disproportionately impacted. Nearly 80% of refugees are concentrated in low-income countries, where access to proper sanitation and basic resources is limited. As nearly half of all refugees are girls and women, the effect of COVID-19 on women refugees is especially high. However, these individuals have also stepped up to fight the pandemic. In partnership with the U.N., Rohingya women in the world’s largest refugee camp have made more than 50,000 masks for distribution. This initiative involved almost 50 families with female breadwinners, allowing these women to bring additional income to their families and teaching lasting leadership skills.

Looking Forward

Women have stepped up to lead the fight against the pandemic in a plethora of ways. They are keeping communities safe while generating income. These are just a few examples of the many critical roles adopted by women during COVID-19; there is no doubt that their presence will continue to be instrumental throughout the pandemic and beyond.

– Anita Durairaj
Photo: Unsplash

Agriculture in AfricaAgriculture in Africa is the cornerstone of sub-Saharan Africa, generating almost 23 percent of the continent’s GDP. Here, women are the backbone of the industry; yet, one in every four malnourished people in the world lives in Africa, and land laws are not as favorable to women as they are to men. The country-led initiative, Grow Africa, and the U.K. based charity, Farm Africa, are working to fix these disparities to help Africa reach its potential. Here are 10 facts about agriculture in Africa.

Top 10 Facts About Agriculture in Africa

  1. Agriculture is one of the most beneficial assets a country can have. It creates more jobs and helps eliminate poverty and hunger, which are immediate problems Africa is facing. Africa’s population will nearly double by 2050 and quadruple by 2100, making it harder to feed communities and generate wealth, but agriculture in Africa has the potential to flourish. In fact, Africa can add 20 percent more grain to the 2.6 billion tons of worldwide production, and nearly the same amount of fruits and vegetables. Agriculture also has the greatest potential to bring about gender and class equality by providing a source of income for women and the poor.
  2. Women in Africa represent nearly 70 percent of the workforce in agriculture and contribute up to 90 percent of the labor, but many women lose land after losing a husband. In fact, in Zambia, nearly 33 percent of widows lose access to family land. Unlike women, men have greater access to productive resources and therefore produce more per acre. By giving women access to resources, agriculture in Africa can produce up to 30 percent more and reduce hunger by 12 to 17 percent. In other words, women in Africa have the potential to feed as much as 150 million people.
  3. Changing the law is not the only answer to closing the gender gap in land ownership, it also requires social change and awareness. In Mozambique, a country in southeastern Africa, women have access to land and property (land law of 1997). However, implementation of the law took time due to traditional courts abiding by customary rules. This follows men being the head of their house and land. In Ghana, there are two laws from 1985 with goals of ensuring widows consent and benefit from selling family land, but not enough women are aware of the laws. Currently, several U.N. agencies are working to strengthen laws in African countries, re-shape social norms and raise awareness of women’s rights. This includes a Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women. They aid more than 40 thousand women with training and enhancing their access to financial services and markets.
  4. Smallholder farms are family farms that are less than seven acres and form 80 percent of Africa’s farmland. There are 33 million family farms that are under four acres in Africa. Research shows that job creation is better capitalized, and investors receive more for their money on smallholder farms than industrial farms. Many farmers in Zambia,  have over 24 acres of land and direct access to markets and inputs such as fertilizer. On the other hand, larger family farms with good soil and access to markets are considered low risk due to receiving aid. Included are welfare, cheaper food and crop insurance. This allows farmers to take risks and increase productivity, such as growing crops for profit. Low risk means access to credit and therefore valuable inputs that will increase yield. The success of many farms depends on financing and resources.
  5. A crucial resource to increasing Africa’s production and growth is giving farmers access to more inputs. Many farmers use traditional farming methods, such as animal waste or cover crops for fertilizer. Despite these efforts, they are still unable to replenish their soil. Many do not have access to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides if they need them and cannot afford irrigation pumps. In fact, only six percent of arable land in Africa is irrigated. Producing more food, such as grain in Africa requires investment.  In order for maximum output of crops, there should be approximately eight times more fertilizer, six times better seeds and funding of $8 billion for storage and $65 billion for irrigation.
  6. According to the U.N., foreign investment contracts in Africa have seized nearly 50 million acres of land. However, these acts were not always conducted diligently or openly. Although some sources suggest that there is ample land for the taking, local indigenous people are often overlooked as viable owners. Additionally, much of the land in Africa is unattainable. About 50 to 70 million acres in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa are arable, while the rest is lost to poor infrastructure, conflict zones, or under forest cover and conservation.
  7. Grow Africa’s mission is to increase private sector investments in agriculture in Africa, which addresses obstacles beyond the number of inputs. Rising urbanization and transportation reduce costs in transporting goods to markets. Investing in infrastructure would not only improve transportation but also intensify local competition. Additionally, it would allow access to arable land and create an efficient and profitable market. After stakeholders invested in agriculture in 11 African countries, poverty and hunger rates dropped and production rates increased.
  8. Farm Africa’s initiative is to improve smallholder farm practices and alleviate poverty starts with the stakeholders. The farmers along with agribusinesses, private investors, national research centers and the government are all vital resources which help farmers. They all aid in implementing technologies that increase resilient and productive outputs. In addition, Growing Futures encourage farms to work together to aggregate high-quality crops. It also promotes creating business plans and selling in bulk at higher prices. Farmers taking part in the project have are experiencing income increases. On average, average income has increased by 49.5 percent. In Elgeyo-Marakwet, Kenya, there are 446 farmers across 23 farms whose income accumulate as high as $210 thousand.
  9. Climate is a deciding factor in the success or failure of a farm. Most of the continent’s irrigation resides in only five of the 54 countries, making farmers more vulnerable to weather fluctuations. Farm Africa provides forecasts, insurance and small-scale irrigation systems to protect farmers against unexpected weather events.
  10. Farm Africa gives farmers access to important inputs. For example, fertilizers, drought-tolerant or disease-resistant seeds, and storage for their crops. Kenyan native, Lucy Marani, is a smallholder farmer who grew garden-variety peas to sell locally before finding financial security by diversifying her crops and switching to a more profitable seed that appeals to domestic and international markets. In 2018, Farm Africa fundraised raised $522 thousand. These funds aided Marani and two thousand other farmers in achieving security and success.

Improving agriculture in Africa not only addresses food instability. In fact, it is likely to bring about political rights, a steady economy and lower rates of poverty.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

Women’s empowerment in IndiaApproximately 270 million Indian people live in poverty, the highest proportion of them women and children. Despite centuries of oppression and social exclusion, women’s empowerment in India is the key to success in alleviating rural poverty throughout the nation. Studies have shown that the poorer the family, the more they rely on the women of their families for survival.

Women in the Workforce

Historically, Indian women have been tasked with collecting clean drinking water, fetching wood for cooking and ensuring other day-to-day tasks to keep their households running smoothly. A cultural shift has recently allowed more women to enter the workforce.

Indian women are proving to be absolutely essential for the future success of India’s growing economy. Many families depend on women’s earnings to keep them afloat and women have started turning to the agricultural sector for employment. Agriculture employs over 80 percent of India’s economically active women. As a result of more women turning to agriculture for work, the country’s agricultural wages have risen and the gap between male and female agricultural wage rates has shrunk.

The Creation of Self-Help Groups

Women’s empowerment in India has been a focus for the Indian government for a number of years. Across the country, self-help groups (SHGs) focused on empowering women have been introduced in rural communities. These groups are usually comprised of 10 to 20 local women from the targeted area. The goals of SHGs are specific to the community it serves, but generally are implemented with a focus toward training members in income-generating activities.

Success Stories of Women’s empowerment in India

In 1998, a small village in India’s north-eastern Jharkhand state was crippled with poverty. The village of Teliya was ridden with severe food insecurity and very little money. Today, Teliya is a thriving village producing year-round cash crops and selling other products to national markets. This transformation began with an SHG.

Teliya’s SHG was started by PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), an India-based non-governmental organization. Funded by a New York-based social justice program, the Ford Foundation, PRADAN has focused on empowering India’s poor and has worked collaboratively with impoverished villages for the past 30 years.

The SHG implemented in Teliya encouraged women to save what money they could to start a community of resource sharing and investment making. Women in the area started contributing what little money they had over the course of a few months. After gaining new confidence, women in Teliya quickly became representatives for their community, unafraid to speak out for the rights of themselves and their families. Women’s empowerment in India has thus proven to be a success.

Teliya’s success story is similar to other SHGs. Most SHGs start out with a small number of women pooling their money to create savings for their community and to provide group loans to their other community members. PRADAN works as an outside supporter, giving the community or village the necessary tools to work from the ground up. The organization is currently working with villages in eight different states across India.

With the success of each SHG and organizations devoted to women’s empowerment in India, the number of people living in poverty steadily decreases. Continued progress toward gender equality will only serve to further improve the nation’s economic and social states.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr

Empowering Women Technology
Women around the world experience poverty at higher rates than men because of certain customs and cultural norms. In many developing countries, women are confined to traditional roles and have limited access to capital, training and technology that could enrich their lives. Such inequality has broad consequences that affect not just women, but the entire community in impoverished regions. Empowering women and ensuring their health and safety correlates directly with ensuring food security for the whole community. The health and financial stability of mothers, in particular, has a huge influence on the welfare and nutrition of children.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has studied the ways in which the improved economic status of women positively affects children, families and societies.

Places where women have more social mobility and control over their finances also have lower child mortality rates, more transparent businesses and faster economic growth. In addition, children’s educational opportunities and job prospects are largely contingent upon their mothers’ incomes and financial stability.


The Role of Technology in Empowering Women


Access to technology also plays a large part in cementing gender inequality, especially in developing countries. For example, even though women constitute the majority of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, it is common for tools to be designed for men’s use, which makes them more difficult for women to use and also limits women’s productivity.

Women in these countries also have less access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as radio and mobile phones, that could facilitate better education and strengthen economic participation. When it comes to energy services in the home, many women struggle to find products that are clean, efficient, safe and affordable.

However, global efforts are being made to empower women and facilitate income-generating activities. In Kenya, the production of fuel-efficient cookstoves has created jobs for women and saved them money on energy. In China, India, Malaysia and Thailand, motorized scooters have increased safety for urban women and expanded employment and educational opportunities. Cisco Systems and UNIFEM have promoted ICT educational academies in the Middle East to give women more power and opportunities in the labor market.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports the efforts of nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and developed countries’ governments to empower women through technology. But they stress that women in developed countries must be included in such efforts. Specifically, they should be assisted to act collectively and be allowed to participate in the design process of new technologies.

This message has been heard by Congress. In November 2015, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on increasing opportunity for women through technology as a way of driving international development.

At the hearing, Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, advocated for policy reforms and investments that would expand women’s access to the Internet and other ICTs. Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, stated that such expansions ought to be crucial to U.S. foreign policy, since they would help “boost economic growth, empower democratic governance and advance global development.”

Joe D’Amore

Sources: House Committee, ICRW, IFAD, Practical Action
Photo: Sameday Papers