The impact of a global pandemic: Part Two …youths and women overexposed


THE COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global economic recession which resulted in a global loss of livelihoods and income of an unprecedented scale.  

The global economic recession that resulted from the pandemic, and measures imposed to contain it, caused a serious slowdown in global economic activity and disrupted supply chains, unleashing new dynamics with cascading effects on food production, food systems and people’s food security and nutrition. 

The pandemic also strained governments’, especially of developing countries’, capacities to provide socio-economic protection for those affected by the crisis. 

The UN Commission for Africa (ECA) estimated Africa required US$100 billion to finance its healthcare systems and develop effective policy responses to address the pandemic.  

Most countries will need to borrow money to finance their responses; however, several countries are limited in how much they can borrow by their existing high debt to GDP ratios

 According to the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), developing countries that were already entering recession by the late 2019 were particularly affected by the pandemic. 

According to the IMF and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), globally, growth was expected to fall dramatically in 2020, ranging between five and eight percent.  

The World Bank expected global remittances, a major source of finance in developing countries, including for Zimbabwe, to drop by approximately 20 percent. 

 The G20 governments offered to freeze the debt service payments for 73 of the poorest countries, an initiative endorsed by the G7 governments in order to free up funds to address the fallout from the pandemic. 

Fully implementing this initiative, however, has been challenging, affecting the ability of the poorest countries to provide social protection for their populations through the crisis. 

Social protection programmes which were disrupted by the pandemic, in turn affected food security and nutrition. 

 Most schools were closed when the lockdowns began. 

This resulted in the loss of school meal programmes in both high and low-income countries. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 370 million children lost access to school meals due to school closures in the wake of the pandemic. 

Governments in some countries and the WFP developed alternative means to reach school-aged children with food assistance. 

These included take-home rations, vouchers and cash transfers.   

However, such options are not in place across the world, adding to the financial burden of poor households struggling to feed their families.

 The global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic, as well as the spread of the disease itself, exacerbated existing societal inequities in most countries, affecting rights as well as access to basic needs, such as food, water and healthcare, including access to jobs and livelihoods, all of which had implications for food security and nutrition. 

In some countries, lockdown measures were coupled with temporary suspensions of workers’ rights. 

  As the crisis unfolded, the loss of jobs and livelihoods negatively affected workers’ agency; weakening memberships of workers’ unions and the capacity of unions to defend the rights of workers who lost formal contracts. 

Collective action and the ability to organise were curtailed by physical distancing measures and lockdowns while in some cases, Government emergency measures as well as youth and women were disproportionately affected by these impacts.

 Gender inequities were also worsened by the pandemic since women faced additional burdens as frontline health and food system workers, unpaid care workers and undertook community work which increased during the lockdowns.  

Many women and youths also risked an increase in domestic violence due to the recession and confinement at home when lockdown measures were in place.

 FAO and WHO maintain these inequities affected women and their important roles in food systems, including as primary actors ensuring household food security and nutrition, as well as being food producers, managers of farms, food traders and wage workers. 

This gender dimension, according to FAO and WHO, is important because women, in their roles as care givers for the sick, children and the elderly, were at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, with knock-on implications for food production, processing and trade.  

Furthermore, the agricultural activities of rural women, according to FAO, were affected more than those of men.

 Rural areas, during COVID-19, were generally perceived to be less affected by

In some countries, lockdown measures were coupled with temporary suspensions of workers’ rights. 

the pandemic. However, those rural areas where COVID-19 control measures were more relaxed and sanitation and health facilities less developed, faced high incidences of COVID-19 cases. 

According to Her Royal Highness Princess of Belgium, speaking at the International Conference: ‘Leaving no one Behind: Making the Case for Adolescent Girls’, in October 2018, under the auspices of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Save the Children Italy, supported by the Government of Canada:“Indigenous peoples account for about five percent of the global population. They are among the most vulnerable and marginalised people who have historically been displaced and/or killed because of the richness of their lands. In these contexts, young girls suffer from a quadruple form of discrimination, as they are young, they are women, they live in rural areas and they are indigenous. This discrimination unveils the presence of specific power relations that often lead to social exclusion.” 

Exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, many food system workers faced precarious and unsafe working conditions. 

These workers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), were often paid low wages and lacked protective equipment and in some regions, such as in South and South-East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Latin America, the majority worked under informal arrangements. 

In many countries where agriculture depends on migrant workers, many worked under casual employment arrangements with few rights while being vulnerable to exploitation. 

Over the past several decades, horticultural production, processing and export have expanded dramatically in many developing countries.  

These countries experienced production shocks during COVID-19, due to labour shortages and transportation issues, which affected incomes and thus food access. Cereal production, especially in industrialised countries where the use of highly capitalised equipment was common, was less impacted. 

Labour-intensive crops, particularly horticultural products, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, often cultivated with a migrant workforce in some countries, were more affected by the pandemic disruptions. 

Supply chains for agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser, were also affected by lockdown measures, making them both scarce and more expensive.

Migrant workers, many of whom worked under casual employment arrangements with few rights, were vulnerable to exploitation. 

They frequently faced poverty and food insecurity with little access to healthcare and social protection measures. 

Migrant food system workers were more exposed to the virus due to cramped work, transport and living conditions and experienced higher incidences of COVID-19 infection compared to other populations. To compound existing inequities, WHO asserted that one-in-three people lacked access to safe drinking water and basic handwashing facilities. 

People, including Zimbabweans, without access to these essential services, which are vital for health and safe food preparation, were at greater risk to contract the coronavirus disease.  

The coronavirus responsible for the global pandemic.

 Food insecurity, during the pandemic, disproportionally affected those people who already experience poverty and faced societal discrimination. 

These very people had less access to healthcare services and were at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.  

COVID-19 also exacerbated inequities in access to safe sources of water and basic sanitation.  

 Even before the pandemic’s outbreak, water scarcity affected more than 40 percent of the global population, and it is projected to increase. 

Improved water efficiency and quality in cost-effective ways, as well as the restoration of water-related ecosystems, post-pandemic, are essential to mitigating water scarcity. 

This is an important precondition to achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.

 Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field.

For views and comments, email:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here