Men have been the biggest casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic according to data released by Lancet.
The male to female mortality ratio per 100,000 population according to the data estimates is about 1:4, making men nearly four times more likely to die from the virus than women.
But whereas the trend remains the same almost nine months since the coronavirus outbreak, it is emerging that women are bearing the biggest brunt of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
Experts are now concerned that the virus could reverse gains made on gender equality.
Speaking during the 10th annual summit of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) hosted last week in Kigali, Rwanda, women in research and agribusiness noted that the pandemic has worsened the situation both at home and work amid dwindling income.
Many career women have had to work from home where they must now juggle chores and office assignments.
African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (Award) director Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg said while the virus has forced many to work from home, women researchers shoulder a heavy burden hence, their general output at work has dramatically dropped.
Dr Kamau-Rutenberg added that male researchers have increased since the pandemic began as women research work has declined. But while women in the research are overwhelmed by a mix of office and homecare work, dozens of their counterparts in the informal sector have lost their jobs exposing them and their families to vulnerabilities.
Experts have pointed out that disruptions in income and education, poor access to health and other essential services exposes women and girls to greater risk of being dispossessed of land and property, and gender digital and pay gaps.
There is also fear that the virus will interfere with the emancipation of women, which has dwindled since many training and professional gatherings have had to be cancelled.
“The virus is also bringing a paradigm shift. Men are seeing that it takes the much it takes to be in the household, and many of them are beginning to embrace and help women in home care provision,” she said.
Globally, it is estimated that about 740 million women are employed in the informal economy. In developing nations, such work constitutes more than two-thirds of female employment. But as countries all over the world locked down, these jobs quickly disappeared.
“Covid-19 has taught us many lessons; we need a better system in the work place and at home if we have to remain productive, we need to build strong research and finally we have to build our own food system,” pointed out Dr Kamau-Rutenberg.
Cesarie Kantarama, the president of Ingabo Syndicate Rwandan Farmers’ Union, said among those hard hit by the pandemic are women in agribusiness.
From lack of logistics to farm inputs, dozens of farmers especially those into the perishable farm produce business have burnt their fingers due to logistical challenges.
Closure of borders
Furthermore, notes Ms Kantarama, women who received loans just before the Covid-19 outbreak are finding it tough trying to repay their loans on time.
“Banks have been giving grace periods but it doesn’t help much due to slow movement of stock. Closure of borders have affected those in cross-border trade,” she explained.
The agricultural sector, according to Ms Kantarama, is considered risky by lenders, especially during this pandemic, therefore farmers who need bank credit to support their ventures are not getting loans.
“Food production has not been a major problem for many Rwandese women in agribusiness due to government intervention. However, distribution has been a challenge due to destabilisation of the markets and restricted movement of consumers,” Ms Kantarama added.
The consequences of the virus on the food system in the region and other countries across the world has been far reaching, especially its impact on global logistics that has in turn affected seed and fertiliser distributions.
Marygoretti Gachagua, a programme officer Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), observed that many farmers in the region had to go for alternative seeds, which unfortunately have poor dormancy forcing farmers to spend more money doing gaping.
Such challenges, Ms Gachagua said, have exposed dozens of farmers to low productivity, high cost of production, yet they have to do door-to-door deliveries, which increases the cost of production.
Food scarcity and high commodity prices have left many households vulnerable to hunger and food insecurity, the expert said.
“Those in the rural areas or in informal settlements might not be able to access certain types of food varieties, which then affects their nutritional security,” she added.
The speakers at the virtual summit also noted that a number of women now risk sinking into depression as the pandemic has disrupted their social engagements.
According to Ms Gachagua, women have heavily invested on social capital and when that is taken away, they become stressed and depressed.
To support farmers and women in agriculture in particular, the experts emphasised that technology-enhanced extension and financial literacy programmes would be critical for smallholder farmers across the continent in addition to digital marketing solutions.
They said engaging women and youth – who basically form the bulk of the smallholder farmers – will lead to greater and resilient agricultural development in Africa. They added that evidence-informed agricultural research should be put in place for the sustainability of the sector post Covid-19 pandemic.
“We can position our farmers to leverage on farm aggregation to tackle logistical challenges and technologies such as E-granary to ensure market for them,” said Ms Gachagua, adding that training the youth on financial management and post-harvest losses is crucial.