The Global Struggle of Poor Women against Hunger and the Pandemic

October 22, 2021

photo: Marek Studzinski – Pixabay

Without any doubt, the global pandemic of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the economy, and, as a consequence, on the population as a whole.  Its appearance accelerated a systemic crisis that was already underway and allowed us to perceive the urgent need of change in the dynamics of the relationships imposed by capitalism.

Although initially, as the pandemic began, many hopeful people believed that this would be an opportunity for a change of paradigm to occur, what has been observed up to now is a deepening of the barbarous system in which the common denominator is the dominance of the most powerful, a practice that is made quite evident, for example, by the hoarding of vaccines by the richest countries.

The increase in poverty, inequality and individualism, along with the growing uncertainties about a future with very little to offer, are situations that have become far worse with the arrival of the pandemic.  And the number of the habitual victims of this system imposed by the Western Powers is also increasing: women, girls, and boys, who according to capitalist logic are the weakest links in this chain of barbarism.

According to Oxfam’s data, every year millions of people have difficulty obtaining food, and some even die of hunger, a situation that has worsened with the appearance of COVID-19, which has aggravated global poverty that “disproportionately affects women and girls who, in addition, also have to expose themselves to enormous risks to obtain food.  They are also the ones who typically eat last and least.”

The international confederation, which, drawing together many different NGOs, has continued to produce reliable statistics, maintains that the situation of women is much more complex in countries where there is armed conflict, producing displacements and refugees, causing women to have to give up their jobs or making them unable to work the fields during the planting season, due to the spiral of violence.

“The current levels of malnutrition are unprecedented, and more than a million pregnant women and nursing mothers and 2.3 million children under age five are experiencing acute malnutrition,” states Oxfam, at the same time indicating that one out every three women is going hungry due to war or conflicts in which their country in involved.  It is possible to infer that these countries are within the boundaries of the Global South.

If it was already difficult to get food in the middle of the wars driven by the Western Powers in countries like Syria and Yemen, the pandemic added an increased layer of difficulty to this situation.

“We have been trapped in our village during for almost three years.  We have lost our harvests and everything we had saved, and now we have to sell our herds to survive.  How would you feel if the only food you were able to offer your children was a dish of cooked weeds?   Going to bed with my stomach empty is now is something that’s normal for me,” relates Lena, a 32 year old mother of three in southern Syria, as described by Oxfam.  Oxfam also states that currently three out of every five people in Syria – 12.4 million people – is in a situation of acute food insecurity, and that this represents an increase of 88% compared to the previous year; this is one of the largest increases of food insecurity in the world.

Oxfam also indicates that, in Syria, war has made it increasingly likely that women have become the main supporters  of their families, while their meager incomes hardly allow them to meet the expenses of the families.

“According to a study carried out by Oxfam, families headed by women are among those most affected by hunger; they have substantially reduced food consumption and have to skip meals.  Some families have had to resort to child-marriage of little girls in order to confront this situation and be able to survive.”

Climate Change Also Creates Difficulties for Women

Just as the Western Powers are responsible for the majority of armed conflicts that make life more difficult in this world, especially for women, the predatory model of capitalism that is promoted by these powers has a huge effect on the climate crisis that is rapidly increasing hunger in the world this year, a crisis worsened by the appearance of the pandemic and by war.

Storms, floods, and droughts are increasingly frequent, and these destroy farms and entire harvests, diminishing the production of foodstuffs.  Global warming is an inescapable reality for those who are engaged in agriculture, especially those who live from harvest to harvest.

“The last seven years have been the hottest recorded since records have been kept, especially 2020,” states Oxfam.

“All my life I have been working at farming,” said Alizeta Sawadogo, age 55, of Burkina Faso,, quoted in the review of the NGO collaboration whose motto is “Working With Others to Combat Poverty and Suffering.”  Sawadogo cultivates grain, but her production has dropped greatly due to the shortage of rain and the long periods of heat. The challenge for Burkina Faso is to try to cultivate at ground temperatures of 122 degrees F, with recurring droughts all year around.  However this population, which is dependent on agriculture, has no other alternative way to feed themselves; it is a question of survival.

Violence Against Women and Inequality Increased During the Pandemic

Ever since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, we were warned that this would increase gender inequality.  This is due, in the first place, to the fact that, in a systemic crisis with shortages of everything, the prevalent mode becomes one of barbarism and quarrels over the few available resources.

Effectively, there was a setback for women’s rights, especially for those who are in a situation marked by poverty and vulnerability.  “We anticipated that it could likely create a backlash against women’s rights in many countries, and make things harder particularly for those women in situation of poverty and vulnerability. The crisis would tear away the gains of the past. One year on, these fears have been realized,” warns Oxfam in an article that describes five ways in which women and girls are most likely to be those harmed by the pandemic.

However, as we have said before, what the pandemic did was to emphasize and accelerate the crisis of a system in decadence.  We are not dealing solely with a health and economic crisis, but with the depths of barbarity foreseen as the result of discrimination due to race, gender, and class.  “COVID-19 is more than just a public health or economic crisis. It is a crisis of discrimination through lived experiences of race, gender, and class. This is entirely avoidable and must be eradicated,” states Oxfam.

But is it possible to do away with exclusion and discrimination within a system that promotes competition and the fight to survive?  It is hard to conceive of the current system creating any other logic within the cultural dynamics now prevalent in the world.

One example for this is that, with the arrival of the pandemic, job loss during this period has disproportionately affected women, representing a setback in terms of their rightful claims  won by years of struggle.  The statistics of many countries demonstrate this.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), the COVID-19 pandemic produced a setback of more than a decade in levels of involvement in the workforce in this region.  A report from February of this year called Economic Autonomy Women in a Sustainable, Equitable Recovery, showed that, “The involvement of women in the workforce was 46% in 2020, while that of men was 69%. It is calculated, in addition, that the unemployment rate for women in 2020 reached 12%, which should be raised to 22.2% if  we assume the same rates of women’s participation in the workforce as that of 2019.  In 2020 a stunning exit of women from the workforce was recorded, as women had to attend to the demands of the care workload in their homes, and were unable to return to seeking paid employment.

Another aspect of this reality is that in many cases women and girls are placed in danger of being enclosed with perpetrators of domestic violence, and were increasing exposed to violent situations.  “Violence against women and girls has rapidly increased in the wake of the movement restrictions linked to the pandemic. Support services for women and girls being faced with violence were hard-hit due to reduction in prevention and protection efforts and social services,” indicates Oxfam in this report.

Uncompensated or Poorly Compensated Domestic Work

Indeed, it is necessary to emphasize that domestic work, which tends to be precarious and impossible to carry out remotely, has been one of the economic sectors hardest hit by the crisis stemming from the pandemic.

The CEPAL study shows that, prior to the arrival of the virus; about 13 million people were employed in paid domestic work, of whom 91.5% were women.  “In total, this sector employed about 11.1% of the working women in the region.  However, in the second trimester of 2020, the levels of  of paid domestic work fell sharply:  by 24.7% in Brazil, by 46.3% in Chile, by 44.4% in Colombia, by 45.5% in Costa Rica, by 33.2% in Mexico, and by 15,5% in Paraguay,” states CEPAL.

It is imperative to promote processes of transformation in the digital realm, including those that guarantee access of women to technology, develop their abilities, and remove the socioeconomic barriers that women have to confront, so as to strengthen their economic autonomy,” emphasized Alicia Barcena, the Executive Secretary of CEPAL, noting the inequality that exists in the field of remote and online employment.

It is also worth noting and pointing out that, in addition to remote or teleworking, there is also an additional burden of domestic work that in most cases falls upon women and is unrecognized, which creates a silent and systematic physical and psychological exhaustion.

“While lockdowns have slowed the market economy, unpaid care work has gone into hyperdrive. Before COVID-19 women and girls were already spending 12.5 billion hours every day on unpaid care work. Oxfam research shows that lockdowns, illness, and school closures have increased this dramatically, mostly shouldered by single mothers, women living in poverty, and racially and ethnically discriminated groups,” Oxfam points out in their report.

Women on the Front Lines

In addition to being responsible for finding resources, buying and cooking food for their families, women have played a critical role during the course of the pandemic.

In the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, they are the crucial part of the first line of struggle against the pandemic.  The CEPAL study shows that “73.2% of people working in the healthcare sector are women, who have had to confront a series of conditions of extremely arduous work, such as long work shifts, that expose them to greater risk of healthcare personnel being exposed to infection from the virus.”

This percentage is approximately the same as that published by Oxfam, which states that “Women have kept the world running during the Covid-19 response, picking up the care workload in clinics, in homes and at the workplace. Globally, women make up 70% of the health and social care workforce. They are also most of the domestic workers in the world. While these jobs are essential for the pandemic response, they have long been undervalued and poorly paid, putting these women essential workers at greater risk of being exposed to the virus themselves.”

This makes it clearly understood that women and children are exposed to the difficulties created by the capitalist system, which places them, along with others considered the weakest links by capitalist logic, right in the center of the hurricane.

Mision Verdad is a group of independent researchers dedicated to analyze the course of the war against Venezuela, together with its global implications.

Source: Mision Verdad