Put women at the centre

THE lockdown has had shocking consequences for the poor. Though important to contain the spread of the Covid-19, it has significantly reduced women’s economic activities, increasing poverty and food insecurity.

According to the United Nations report on the impact of Covid-19 on women, the majority of women’s employment is in the informal economy. To earn a living these women often depend on public spaces and social interaction which were restricted to contain the spread of the pandemic.

This was the case for most small-scale farmers, who were stuck with a surplus of fresh produce because there was no market for them to sell their products. On the other hand, the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey report showed that almost half of the country’s population went hungry in April, with 47% of households running out of food as a result of job losses. Women, especially mothers, are at the forefront of the hunger crisis, with many going without so their children can eat.

The Solidarity Fund rolled out food parcels to 250 000 families but many families have been unable to access these food parcels.

As the government grapples with feeding a growing number of desperately hungry people, there have been many remarkable community efforts, most led by women who have been holding their communities together for years.

In uMgungundlovu, a group of women from farms, Qina Mbokodo, partnered with the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra), a land-rights advocacy organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, as part of a food systems research and small farmer support intervention initiated by the Land Network National Engagement Strategy of SA. This intervention sought to map out small-scale farmers, local bakkie traders and pupil transporters, and households in need of food in the uMgungundlovu District. Based on the research, the intervention then set out to buy food from small-scale farmers in the district and to pay local transporters to convey the food to households in urgent need. According to Qina Mbokodo, this intervention supported them, as well as households in need. The research that was undertaken was then used to map the local food system so as to provide support in the longer term. This will include supporting small farmers to gain access to government disaster relief funding and to purchase farming inputs. Although small, the project has had a measurable impact and provides a foundation for this work to expand. A total of 30 small-scale farmers benefited through the purchase of their produce, and through the receipt of farming inputs, including seedlings, layer hens and feed, more than 200 households benefited through food parcels, which in addition to the fresh produce procured by the project, included goods such as rice, maize meal, tea and sugar. The transporters also benefited through securing income that was otherwise lost.

While there are many initiatives across the country, it is depressing that there is no functioning national system to end hunger. However, what we are learning about these initiatives is that we need to produce food locally to meet local needs, and that community and household food gardens build food security in both the immediate and longer term, rather than the provision of physical food items which represent a shortterm solution only.

Since the outbreak, gender-based violence (GBV), particularly domestic violence, has intensified. Economic stress has also put women at a greater risk and psychological support was provided by Afra to Qina women during the lockdown.

Access to health and social services was more difficult in the first stages of the lockdown, which meant that women were trapped in their homes with abusive partners. People defaulted on their chronic medication and it was difficult for women to access reproductive health services. The Solidarity Fund approved R17 million for GBV support services, however, much more needs to be done to care for survivors and change the social norms that allow for GBV.

Psychological support is also important at this time and the public health service must provide better mental health care. Covid-19 response plans, including managing resources and gender impacts, must include women at the heart of them. Women have always been the backbone of our families and putting them at the centre will drive more sustainable development outcomes for all.

Published in The Witness on 25 Aug 2020

Written by Nokuthula Mthimunye, AFRA


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