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Economic inclusion and social protection to reduce poverty

Addressing gender inequalities to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in rural areas

FAO. 2020. ​Economic inclusion and social protection to reduce poverty: Addressing gender inequalities to mitigate the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in rural areas. FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme: Europe and Central Asia. Budapest.

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    As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, many countries are adopting measures to control the spread of the virus. While the health aspects of the pandemic have not affected rural areas as much as urban centres, containment measures pose new challenges to rural women with regards to their roles in household food security, as agricultural producers, farm managers, processors, traders, wage workers and entrepreneurs. Past experience shows that rural women are disproportionally affected by health and economic crises in a number of ways, including but not limited to food security and nutrition, time poverty, access to health facilities, services and economic opportunities, and gender-based violence (GBV). Further, COVID-19 is increasing women’s work burden due to school closures and the additional care needs of sick household members. This brief compiles evidence from current and previous epidemics to explore the socio-economic implications of the impact of the pandemic on food systems and rural economies, and how a gender-sensitive approach can help address key policy issues related to the functioning of food and agricultural systems and the special circumstances of rural women. It also provides concrete policy recommendations to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on rural women and girls.
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    Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures implemented to control the spread of the virus have exacerbated existing gender inequalities. This paper explores changes in agriculture, food security, nutrition, and family dynamics in the rural areas of Central Asia – specifically, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – during the pandemic, focusing on women and men. Employing a mixed-methods approach that combines quantitative and qualitative analyses, the findings reveal that rural women were disproportionally affected due to pre-existing gender disparities and limited decision-making power. Women experienced compounded challenges, including increased unpaid work, additional agricultural labour and household chores, difficulties associated with online schooling and healthcare management, limited access to agricultural resources, and a higher risk of domestic violence. The pandemic heightened women’s vulnerability to food insecurity, whereas Central Asian governments’ interventions failed to support all women effectively. The paper concludes with policy recommendations to guide future policymaking, aiming to mitigate shocks and stressors and develop gender-responsive actions that empower rural women and men. These recommendations focus on improving food security and overall well-being in the rural regions of Central Asia, recognizing and addressing the distinct challenges women faced during the pandemic.

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