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The Impacts of COVID-19 in The Agriculture Sector Go Beyond the Disruption of Global Food Systems, Regional Agriculture Value Chains, and Risk to Household Food Security.

By Kristy McCarville, Operations Associate, US Overseas Cooperative Development Council

As policies began to restrict the freedom of movement and business operations, economic and social stressors aggravated pre-existing gender and societal hierarchies, leading to an uptick in gender-based violence (GBV). In the past, rural women have disproportionally been affected by health and economic crises, and experts have long linked economic insecurity with GBV.

As gender equity is increasingly seen as a pillar for sustainable economic development and broad social well-being, alternative models to development that incorporates women’s equality in work are needed (ILO). Women’s empowerment is promoted through cooperative values of self-help, equality, and equity; thus, cooperatives address socio-economic injustices experienced by women and girls and end gender-based violence.

In 2012, the General Assembly of Alliance adopted the Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade. The blueprint highlights key ambitions for women including:

  • the creation of economic opportunities
  • expanding membership to increase participation and engagement in the cooperative democratic processes.

Celestin Hategekimana examines the role of women’s cooperatives to improve socio-economic development and changing relationships within a patriarchal society. Hategekimana selected twelve cooperatives in the Mayage region as a focus group to analyze the ways cooperatives empower women, their household, and the community. The focus group baseline data outlined the root cause of gender-based violence is the financial dependence of women on men.

Hategekimana’s research findings showed:

  • Women’s empowerment through participation in cooperatives has resulted in significant changes in patriarchal power relations.
  • A dramatic drop in violence against women in the case study. (See Table 1 below).
  • Independence and real empowerment can change not only culture but gender relations and other power relations in any society.

Table 1: Changes in incidents of gender-based violence within cooperative members

Data from table 1 shows that gender-based violence significantly reduced from 2007 to September 2010 after women joined as a cooperative member in the Mayaga region. At baseline, women in 2007 reported 935 incidents of GBV perpetrated by their husbands and dropped to only 6 cases of reported spousal abuse by September 2010. After joining a cooperative, women saw a 97.67% reduction in GBV (husband, relative, and unidentified) by September 2010. The data also reflects that women were more likely to experience GBV by their husbands than other relatives. Civil society is also more likely to intervene than the police. In the Mayaga region, the community remains the key actor through mobilizing community policing activities (at the village level).

The cooperative model and values alone are not enough to end gender-based violence. Responses to GBV must be victim-centered, and USAID highlights the need for a victim-centered program in the following quote, respond only, and you will be responding forever. Prevent only, and you ignore the survivor in front of you.”

USAID’s toolkit for integrating GBV prevent and response programming highlights:

  • Expand collaborative efforts
  • Conduct gender analysis and GBV risk assessment to avoid doing harm
  • Elevate women and girls as leaders and agents of change in programming and policy
  • Engage men as allies in GBV prevention and response in projects for women’s economic advancement
  • Include and address the needs of underserved populations
  • Engage civil society and the private sector
  • Require sexual harassment policies
  • Address GBV in crisis and conflict-affected contexts
  • Build the knowledge base and fill data gaps about problems and solutions to GBV in the world of work

COVID-19’s impacts on rural women have varied, and gender mainstreaming interventions during and after the pandemic should focus on resilience. CGAP provides four recommendations to ensure gains in women’s empowerment which, is likely to reduce gender-based violence.

  • Capture data on women in rural and agricultural livelihoods and seek to understand their experiences to inform the recovery phase.
  • Prioritize services women prefer while addressing the social norms they face. 
  • Increase women’s access to technology and digital financial services.
  • Contribute to the longer-term transformation of women’s status and gender roles and improve gender equality to build true resilience.

The Research Group compiled a list of  Gender-Based Violence Resources that support GBV response efforts as well as provides information for survivors that are victim-centered in the context of local service providers or hotlines to report GBV. The goal of the document is to provide principles of doing the least harm to survivors when collecting GBV data. Further, it provides programming resources from CARE and Gender-Based Violence AoR’s coordination strategies to mitigate or intervene GBV.

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