The COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding in a world that is already experiencing a hunger crisis, one in which 2 billion people—one in every four people—do not have reliable access to enough nutritious and safe food.1 At the start of 2020, 690 million people were undernourished or chronically hungry, and UN agencies estimate that that figure could increase by over 130 million because of COVID-19. Severe food insecurity or a food crisis could nearly double to affect 270 million people by the end of the year.
Food insecurity is already increasing around the world. The population of people experiencing food insecurity in Latin America has tripled, and West and Central African food insecure populations have more than doubled. In Southern Africa, the food insecure population has increased by as much as 90%. 85% of people involved in CARE’s work in Lebanon already indicated that they had been forced to reduce the number of meals they ate even before the recent explosion rocked Beirut. Ethiopia estimates that 9 million more people will need food assistance. Wealthy nations are not immune to food insecurity either. In the U.S., at least 6 million people have registered for food benefits since the start of the pandemic. In the UK, one in four adults are struggling to access affordable food.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are exposing the existing flaws in food systems, many of which stem from gender inequalities and the unfair treatment of women and girls. Women and girls are the majority of food producers and food providers for their households, but their contributions are frequently unseen. Too often, women eat last and least. Prior to the explosion in Beirut, 85% of women CARE surveyed in Lebanon were already eating smaller portions, compared to only 57% of men. In Afghanistan, women and men are both missing meals, but women are missing one more day of meals each week than men.
Women lack the access, information, and inputs they need to fight food insecurity and malnutrition. In Mali, curfews related to the COVID-19 pandemic restrict the times women work in the fields, but not the hours men work, so women disproportionately struggle with food production. In Northeast Nigeria, women have lost access to the cash for work programs that allowed them to buy seeds and grow crops. In Morocco, women cannot even register for COVID-19 safety net programs unless they are widowed. In Vietnam, women are struggling to buy protein and vegetables to make a balanced diet.