Originally dubbed as the “biodiversity super-year”, 2020 will unfortunately be remembered for something quite different: the outbreak of COVID-19. In addition to the tragic loss of human life and the unleashing of an economic recession, one of the pandemic’s immediate and distressing effects has been to exacerbate inequalities. Women, and especially rural women, who lack the resources and safety nets needed to buffer shocks, have been comparatively extremely hard hit by the pandemic and its response.
In many world regions, rural men and women, compared to urban populations, live far away from quality healthcare structures as well as basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation and essential medicines. But then, compared to rural men, gender norms and institutions further hinder rural women’s mobility and access to public health resources, information and services. Studies have shown that rural women are taking on an even greater share of care work as a consequence of the pandemic, that they are experiencing an increase in domestic violence, and that they are more likely than men to lose their jobs or source of employment. Simply put, despite the fact that COVID-19 seems to be more fatal for men than women, rural women are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the consequences of the sometimes very harsh outbreak management responses.
It is long known and proven that women and girls play a crucial role in the agricultural work force. Moreover, they carry out most domestic work, and are at the heart of their communities’ organization, maintaining social cohesion and shaping intrahousehold dynamics. Importantly, they are also the custodians of their household’s food security and nutrition, and critical to its resilience. Yet, these contributions -together with the challenges women face to deliver on those- are consistently underrecognized and undervalued.
These realities reinforce the urgency and motivation of FTA’s work. As a research program with a key focus on policies, governance and institutions, FTA places gender equality concerns at the heart of its research to “build back better” and more resilient landscapes and livelihoods for all.
As you, FTA newsletter readers, know well, FTA recognizes gender equality as an inherent human right, and a fundamental part of achieving all of its objectives. Rather than merely addressing the symptoms of gender inequality (e.g. unequal participation, income), we need to devise transformative approaches that tackle the underlying causes, such as formal rules (e.g. policies and regulations) and informal rules (e.g. social norms, power relations), of inequality.
In that regard, FTA, as a partnership working globally but in very different contexts, has adopted one constant, not negotiable, objective across all geographies: to support women and girls’ involvement in decision making, control of resources, and control over their own labor and destiny. Only by solving pervasive inequalities in these and other areas will we be able to venture on a solid path towards equitable development and resilient landscapes.
As Reverend Martin Luther King once wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” These words resound with wisdom and truth as global, national, and local communities struggle to cope with COVID-19.
Research and action to document and address inequalities linked to gender, rurality, socio-economic status, and other factors of marginalization was a prominent theme in FTA’s Scientific Conference, which ran from 14-25 September 2020. Interventions across six technical workstreams highlighted how social equality can be an engine for sustainability, and canvassed transformational ways to move forward. The conference was an occasion to showcase the significant body of FTA work in this area.
The current pandemic will not deter us. FTA scientists are renewing efforts to generate data and technical, social and institutional innovations that can support change towards a more gender-equal world; and to honor and support the resilience of rural women in the wake of COVID-19.
Vincent Gitz, FTA Director and Marlène Elias, FTA Gender coordinator