Gender, COVID-19 and Food Systems:
impacts, community responses and feminist policy demands
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This publication is a report of the CSM Women’s Working Group. It was authored by Jessica Duncan and Priscilla Claeys in consultation with the Women’s Working Group.
“We won’t go back to normality, because normality was the problem.”
With this sentence projected on the facade of a building in Santiago of Chile in March 2020, grassroots and feminist movements clearly articulated their perspective on the COVID-19 crisis. This is a profound and unprecedented global crisis that is exacerbating and leveraging pre-existent systemic forms of patriarchal inequalities, oppressions, racism, colonialism, violence and discrimination that cannot be tolerated.
With this sentence capturing the public space and visibility of a building, feminist movements also proclaimed that they would not surrender to isolation and the silencing of their voices, struggles and demands during this pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the structural vulnerabilities and weaknesses of our food systems. Neoliberalism, global capitalism and feudalism[i] have been eroding for decades our social protection and welfare systems, fostering the structural colonial deprivation and grabbing of natural resources of the global south, violating human rights, harming ecosystems and biodiversity and strengthening the sexual division of labor, leaving women to face alone the burden of productive and social reproductive work.
From a feminist perspective, the COVID-19 crisis is indeed a global care crisis, where states and governments have failed to prioritize people’s interests, while (transnational) corporations are increasingly capturing and dismantling the public commons to impose their own private interest. This pattern is also well reflected in the current production and consumption food systems.
It has been suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario.[ii] Women are indeed positioned, due to their gender-assigned roles, to be disproportionately impacted, as they are literally on the front line of the crisis.Women and girls are the majority of food producers and providers for their households, they are the majority of nurses, care and social workers, food and agricultural workers and teachers. Yet, they have been consistently overlooked and invisible in research and responses to the pandemic.
Gender inequality and discrimination is shaping, and will continue to shape, the COVID-19 pandemic in tangible and significant ways. The collective spirit and emotional intensity generated during this time of crisis can be, and has been, mobilized, and their impacts are likely to be greater now.[iii] Efforts dedicated to providing mutual aid, monitoring policy makers, defending women and workers’ rights, creating strike funds to extend health benefits to those who lost their jobs, strengthening popular education, organizing food distributions, offer a perspective of the crisis ‘from below’ and provide us with concrete examples of rebuilding social fabrics based on concrete solidarity. Feminist and food sovereignty movements have been, and continue to be, central to these efforts.
Given this context, this report summarizes research around the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on women in and across the constituencies and regions of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Based on the research, the report summarizes acts of mutual aid and solidarity, as well as negative impacts experienced by women around the world. Principles to guide policies and programmes are identified and concrete policy demands are articulated in four areas: 1) economic activities, markets and access to resources; 2) care work, public health and gender-based violence; 3) participation, representation and digital equity; 4) government responses and social protection.
[i] Feudalism is defined as the control over vast tracts of land by a very small powerful minority of landowners who exploit and oppress rural communities, especially the small and landless producers, particularly in the Asian context.
[ii] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020.
Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO.
https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9692en. p. xvi
[iii] Bao, H. 2020. ‘Anti-domestic violence little vaccine’ : A Wuhan based feminist activist campaign during COVID- 19. Interface. https://www.interfacejournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Bao.pdf