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A cry of a woman in one of rural villages in Uganda during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary and unprecedented times for everyone, affecting agricultural production of crops, provision of services and trade activities.  Pandemics such as the COVID-19 are going to have far-reaching devastating effects on women who depend on subsistence agriculture with virtually no support.

The pandemic is not only disrupting the way of living but is also intensifying climate change impacts, affecting the agricultural value food chain, livelihoods, and health. Women are the most affected by this added pressure due to their critical roles in families. Gender-based vulnerabilities are further exposed due to social norms that dictate women’s behaviour. For instance, in times of food insecurity, women tend to eat last, often skipping meals and leaving their shares to children and their spouses.

All women in rural areas engage in agriculture which is informal with no pay and vulnerable to shocks. When droughts and floods limit access to safe water, more time and energy must be spent collecting water for sanitation and food preparation. This, coupled with their existing care burdens, means women have less time to spend in their own fields when a family member falls ill.

For instance, from March to May 2020, the movement of goods and people were restricted, limiting women’s ability to engage in other agricultural activities like marketing. As a result, many women have no income at all further stunting their long-term economic prospects. Additionally, as household incomes decline, the demand for products produced by women also falls. For example, due to COVID-19, women poultry in Uganda are unable to find a market for their eggs, live birds, intensifying economic stress.

It’s important to remember, however, that women are also active change agents who are often responsible for positive action in the face of shocks. Supporting them in providing agricultural inputs and awareness creation gets them to bigger opportunities, increase their productivity, improve incomes at family level hence improved livelihoods.

Working with the vulnerable women in rural areas of Uganda has changed my views on gender economics where both women and men are supposed to contribute to household incomes for survival of homes. Practically, women take up a major role in building up families and are overburdened in times of crisis like the COVID -19 pandemic.

I received a call yesterday the 25th of June 2020 from a village in Bugongi Sheema district that triggered me to write this article.

Hello Sarah, of course followed by greetings in the local language and many words to accompany the greeting!!!!!!!!!!!

I responded gracefully and immediately "Hope" not the real name started narrating her story of Covid -19 Pandemic. One of the issues that caught my attention was the issue of market closures. She narrates, "We planted food, ate it, got finished, we are preparing gardens for the next planting season. We shall eat all that we are going to plant and finish it, that is if we are lucky to get agricultural inputs because we consumed everything. The markets are closed, my children have no clothes, we cannot move. Police will get us and imprison us and our children will suffer at home. Our husbands are at home fulltime, they have been used to drinking the whole day, and now too idol at home, they do not want to work. I do not know what to do, the situation is bad". I froze with the phone in my hands and just replied that all will be well, Covid pandemic is about to end and things will become normal. This was just to console the lady because deep in heart I knew the situation is worsening.

As I cry for vulnerable women in rural communities, combined efforts are needed to have these women not live for only tomorrow but live longer, sustain themselves economically and assure them of greater hope, more greater opportunities for their children, families and communities. COVID -19 will go and lives must continue.

By Sarah Atuhaire Baryaija