There is a threat to the gains made on furthering gender equality around the world - the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have written about the global consequences of the novel coronavirus on communities experiencing oppression where the socio-economic effects have laid bare the fissures in our social safety nets and market systems, but have since taken the opportunity to learn more about the localized effects on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in MEDA’s programming.
Several of MEDA’s projects undertook rapid assessment telephone surveys to better understand how risk mitigation strategies such as national lockdowns and other measures have affected the ability of projects to function, and smallholder producers and business owners to earn a livelihood. These assessments featured intersectional, gender-related criteria to gather information and paint a picture of the gendered issues that have emerged for women, men, and youth staff and clients across our projects. Below is a snapshot of significant findings and strategies:
Impacts of COVID-19 on Household Decision-Making and Responsibilities
The impacts of the pandemic varied across projects regarding joint household decision-making and responsibility sharing on issues pertaining to business and family. In the PAVE (Pakistan) project, results revealed that 96% of partnered women reported a change (increase or decrease) in domestic workload versus only 43% of women who identified as household heads. This may be because women as household heads have more say in decisions concerning household and farm responsibilities or may be single and thus their workload remained the same. In the M-SAWA (Kenya) project, 80% of both women and men respondents noted a change (increase and/or decrease) in decision-making between spouses on issues such as household financial management with men reporting a higher decrease (70%) versus women (61%). Moreover, 58% of women noted an increase in familial assistance on household duties (64% of women reported the same in the Jordan Valley Links project). In the UHBDP (Ukraine) project, these duties included more time spent on childcare, supporting home schooling, and cooking. These shifts were also felt by staff as shared by our JVL (Jordan) and WAY (Nigeria) project teams. Both JVL and WAY staff, particularly women staff, reported the impact of the “triple burden” (home schooling, work, and domestic tasks) on their well-being. In the FEATS (Ghana) project, these shifts in workload also impacted men staff who took on more domestic tasks while their spouses were at work.
Several projects provide gender awareness training for both staff and clients addressing gender roles, responsibilities, and norms to highlight the inequitable care burden and promote equitable decision-making. Further assessment of the impacts of COVID-19 on gender relations will be undertaken in various projects.
The JVL team promoted flexible work hours for office resumption as well as the opportunity to bring children to work with consideration for collective childcare in the office. Work-from-home protocols enabled pregnant and nursing staff in the WAY project to maintain social distancing, and the FEATS project also promoted flexible work schedules for staff.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Mobility and Communication
The pandemic resulted in national lockdowns in many countries, combined with increases and shifts in familial responsibilities, have limited mobility particularly for women. In the EMERTA (Ethiopia) project, women respondents noted that leaving the house for business, personal and family reasons decreased (67%, 78% and 74% respectively) during COVID-19. In the WAY project, this lack of mobility impacted women’s access to essential services, and only 42% of women Savings and Loan Group (SLG) members could purchase their shares1 from their WAY-supported SLG. Communication regarding the pandemic, between family members, and regarding the state of the market was also affected. In the PAVE project, while some women received COVID-19 updates from the media, others were dependent on their spouse as men have greater access to the public sphere. In the JVL project, 67% of women noted an increase in intra-household communication with more family at home sheltering in place. In the M-SAWA project, 61% of women versus 39% of men noted a disruption in communication from their farmer groups.
The UHBDP team successfully leveraged communications platforms to ensure greater reach to rural women including Viber, the project Facebook page, and partner use of ICTs to collect data. The team considered mobility constraints for women by scheduling events outside of peak hours and conducting one-on-one consultations. Future phone-based data collection approaches are also being explored by both JVL and EMERTA.
The FEATS project utilized radio campaigns and engaged women to deliver information on post-harvest handling and storage tips to ensure greater reach to rural women clients. Other projects are also leveraging radio programming to improve consistency and reach of information (WAY).
Impacts of COVID-19 on Household and Community Conflict
Lastly, an area that was assessed in several projects was the impact on intra-household and community well-being. In WAY the team found that 1 in 4 women reported experiencing an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) resulting from the economic stress experienced by families sheltering in place. In JVL, 31% of women respondents noted an increase in fights and/or arguments related to men’s responses to financial pressures. In M-SAWA, both men and women reported an increase in verbal disagreements, community unrest and physical abuse, yet women reported these issues at higher rates than men, suggesting a potential uptick in GBV experienced by women. In the EMERTA project, both early marriage and divorce rates are on the rise, the latter attributed in part to instances of economic abuse. Some projects reported no change in rates of unrest and/or violence which is a positive finding. In the PAVE project, some women noted how happy they were to have their husband at home more often. Nevertheless, project teams acknowledged that enabling women clients to disclose personal information over the phone can be difficult and can affect data accuracy.
The M-SAWA project has provided information on existing national and regional GBV response services to partners to enable them to disseminate information. The UHBDP project has publicized similar resources for easy access on their project website.
The EMERTA project is partnering with a women’s rights organization (WRO) to provide training on rights issues including GBV and is also preparing training materials. In WAY, one of the WRO implementing partners is focused on addressing early and forced girl child marriage and promotes community dialogue on gender issues. The project will continue to support them to identify COVID-related gender risks as they arise.
Stay tuned for a more detailed learning summary on the GESI Impacts of COVID-19 coming out soon, as well as an expanded MEDA toolkit on understanding and addressing market resilience during shocks.