Toward Resilient Livelihoods, Food Security and Nutrition for All: Gendered Impacts of COVID-19
This post is written by Elizabeth Bryan, Muzna Alvi, Prapti Barooah, Shweta Gupta and Claudia Ringler, IFPRI.
More than a year into the crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns continue to have devastating effects around the globe, including in rural areas of developing countries, where farmers’ agricultural inputs, sale of output and food security are affected by lockdowns, shortages and higher prices, and migrating family members lost their jobs and income opportunities. While the overall impacts are becoming clear, less attention has been paid to the differential impacts on men and women and their ability to cope with the multiple shocks associated with the pandemic. New research from the International Food Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI’s) Gender, Climate Change and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN) team sheds light on the gendered impacts of COVID-19, based on panel phone survey data collected in seven Feed the Future countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda. In each country, data were collected from men and women in rural areas on the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic, such as income loss and food insecurity, as well as coping responses used to address income losses.
The results show that income shocks due to the pandemic are also pervasive in rural areas. Both men and women respondents reported that their own income was affected by COVID-19. The trends varied across countries in terms of when income losses were most severe. Most respondents reported that their households were more affected by income losses closer to the start of the pandemic, when households were scrambling to adjust to new economic realities. As the pandemic wore on, income losses seem to have subsided to some degree as conditions allowed households to resume economic activities or livelihood activities were adjusted following the initial shock. However, new COVID-19 waves in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) will likely affect incomes more dramatically again as we move further into 2021.
The share of both men and women reporting that their own income was affected was high across many countries, except in Nepal and Niger, where men were more likely than women to report income losses (see figure 1). Income loss trends also varied by gender. In some countries — Ghana, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda — women were more likely to report income losses in earlier survey rounds compared to later ones, mirroring the overall trend. However, in the other countries (Kenya, Niger and Senegal), the share of women reporting income losses increased in later rounds, with late surge cases.
Men and women used diverse coping measures to address income losses due to the pandemic. These include using savings, borrowing, selling assets and receiving transfers. In general, the results show more use of savings at the start of the pandemic and a shift towards greater reliance on asset sales and borrowing during later rounds. This suggests that households deplete savings first when confronted with shocks and are then forced to rely on other, less-preferred coping responses, like selling assets.
While both men and women contribute to coping responses, there are lots of differences across countries in terms of whose savings were used and whose assets were sold. In most countries, men were more likely to report that their own savings were used, except in Senegal and Uganda, where women were slightly more likely to report that they used their own savings. This may be because women have fewer savings to be drawn upon and, therefore, they are more quickly depleted. This trend is especially evident in some countries, such as Kenya and Nepal, where use of women’s savings declined from the first to the last round, while use of men’s savings increased.
Selling assets as a coping strategy generally increased or remained high across countries, except for Kenya and Nigeria. These findings suggest that as savings were depleted, selling assets remained an important coping response to dealing with persistent income losses as a result of the pandemic. Men were generally more likely to report that their own assets were sold, except in Uganda, where women were more likely to report that their assets were sold (see figure 2). Importantly, the data show that the share of women reporting that their own assets were sold to cope with the pandemic is increasing across rounds in six out of seven countries. Uganda, where women’s assets sales were already high in the first survey round and higher than men’s and in both rounds, was the only exception.
Borrowing money also remained an important coping strategy across all countries and rounds. As with selling assets, the importance of borrowing increased over time in several countries, including Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. Very few households received support from the government or NGOs to address the COVID-19 pandemic — except in Senegal, where a large share of respondents reported receiving government support.
In addition to the income shocks from the pandemic, changes in access to food were also reported by a large share of survey participants across countries. Data show that worry about food remains high in many countries — more than 50% of men and women in almost all countries worried that they would not have enough food to eat. Women were generally more likely to worry they would not have enough food. Respondents in countries that were more worried about their food security also reported that access to food changed as a result of COVID-19. Some of the most common changes reported were inability to obtain enough food, eating less food and, to a lesser degree, obtaining food from different sources or eating different types of food. These changes in food access are particularly troubling in countries where women do not have adequate diets. Diet quality, measured by women’s dietary diversity, was particularly low in Kenya, Niger and Senegal.
The phone surveys also highlighted challenges related to a poor water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) environment, especially in northern Ghana, and also to some extent in Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda. More than half of female survey participants and about half of male participants in northern Ghana reported that they did not have water for washing hands after defecating, changing diapers or cleaning animal dung. A poor WASH environment makes it difficult to fight COVID-19 and should be urgently addressed to prevent the risk of disease now and in the future.
Rural households also need relief to address the pervasive income and food security shocks stemming from the pandemic. Interventions may include food relief and food-for-work programs that target the poorest households, provision of credit with favorable terms and asset building programs to help families build back better. Such programs should be targeted to women, especially in places where women’s income losses are high and/or women’s savings and assets are now depleted.
Finally, more research is needed on the long-term impacts of the loss of savings, assets and indebtedness as a result of the pandemic. Interventions aimed at providing immediate relief should also evolve in the medium to long term to counteract these long-term negative impacts.