COVID’s Impact in Real Time: Finding Balance Amid the Crisis

COVID-19: UNESCO– Solutions for Distance Learning
The contribution of voluntary social distancing was larger in advanced economies where people can work from home more easily or can even afford to stop working thanks to personal savings and social security benefits.

By Francesco Grigoli and Damiano Sandri
WASHINGTON DC, Oct 12 2020 – One enduring lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that any lasting economic recovery will depend on resolving the health crisis.

Our research in the latest World Economic Outlook shows that government lockdowns—while succeeding in their intended goal of lowering infections—contributed considerably to the recession and had disproportional effects on vulnerable groups, such as women and young people.

But the recession was also largely driven by people voluntarily refraining from social interactions as they feared contracting the virus. Therefore, lifting lockdowns is unlikely to lead to a decisive and sustained economic boost if infections are still elevated, as voluntary social distancing will likely persist.

Yet the analysis finds that a balance can be achieved in protecting public health while preventing a protracted economic decline. Lockdowns impose short-term costs but may lead to a faster economic recovery as they lower infections and thus the extent of voluntary social distancing.

Examining the medium-term effects of lockdowns as well as the robustness of our findings is an important area for future research as the pandemic evolves and more data become available.

The economic and health crisis through the lens of real-time data

We analyze the economic effects of lockdowns and voluntary social distancing using two high-frequency proxies for economic activity: mobility data from Google and job openings posted on the website Indeed.

As illustrated in the top chart below, over the entire sample of 128 countries used in the analysis, lockdowns and voluntary social distancing contributed equally to the drop in mobility during the first 3 months of a country’s epidemic.

The contribution of voluntary social distancing was larger in advanced economies where people can work from home more easily or can even afford to stop working thanks to personal savings and social security benefits.

Conversely, people in low-income countries are often unable to opt for voluntary social distancing as they do not have the financial means to cope with a temporary income loss. The analysis of job posting data provides similar insights, showing that both lockdowns and voluntary social distancing contributed substantially to the drop in labor demand.

The large contribution of voluntary social distancing in reducing mobility and job postings should warn policymakers against lifting lockdowns when infections are still elevated in the hope of jumpstarting economic activity. Addressing the health risks appears to be a pre-condition to allow for a strong and sustained economic recovery.

In this regard, the analysis reveals that lockdowns can substantially reduce infections. The effects are particularly strong if lockdowns are adopted early in a country’s epidemic.

The bottom chart below shows that countries that adopted lockdowns when COVID-19 cases were still low experienced much better epidemiological outcomes relative to countries that intervened when cases were already high. The chapter also documents that lockdowns must be sufficiently strict to curb infections, thus suggesting that stringent and short-lived lockdowns could be preferable to mild and prolonged measures.

The effectiveness of lockdowns in reducing infections, coupled with the finding that infections can considerably harm economic activity because of voluntary social distancing, calls for re-considering the prevailing narrative about lockdowns involving a trade-off between saving lives and supporting the economy.

This characterization of lives vs. livelihoods neglects that effective lockdown measures taken early during an epidemic may lead to a faster economic recovery by containing the virus and reducing voluntary social distancing.

These medium-term gains may offset the short-term costs of lockdowns, possibly even leading to positive overall effects on the economy. More research is warranted on this important aspect as the crisis evolves and more data become available.

The impact of lockdowns on vulnerable groups

The chapter also contributes to the growing evidence that the crisis is having disproportionate effects on more vulnerable groups. Anonymized and aggregated mobility data provided by telecommunications company Vodafone for Italy, Portugal, and Spain, show that stay-at-home orders and the associated school closures led to a larger drop in the mobility of women relative to men.

This effect is largely due to the disproportionate burden that women face in caring for children, which may prevent them from going to work, thus jeopardizing their employment opportunities.

The Vodafone data also reveal that lockdowns tend to impact the mobility of younger people more strongly. The bottom chart below shows that stay-at-home orders led to a sharper decline in the mobility of people aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 44 who tend to have younger children to care for when schools are closed and often have temporary job contracts that are more likely to be terminated during a crisis.

The larger impact on these populations threatens to increase inter-generational inequality.

Targeted policy intervention—such as strengthening unemployment benefits and supporting paid leave for parents—is thus needed to protect more vulnerable people and ensure that the crisis does not lead to a long-lasting widening of inequality.

Source: IMF Blog

*IMF Blog is a forum for the views of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and officials on pressing economic and policy issues of the day.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF and its Executive Board.


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Gendering Agriculture so Women Take the Lead in Feeding Africa

Rhoda Tumusiime, IITA Board Member, Former African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, and Chairperson, HOPE

Steven Cole, Senior Scientist and Gender Research Coordinator, IITA

By Rhoda Tumusiime and Steven Cole
IBADAN, Nigeria, Oct 12 2020 – Africa’s hopes of feeding a population projected to double by 2050 amidst a worsening climate crisis rest on huge investments in agriculture, including creating the conditions so that women can empower themselves and lead efforts to transform the continent’s farming landscape.

Rhoda Tumusiime

As we celebrate the 2020 International Year of Rural Women, Africa needs to reflect more on the role women play in food and nutrition security, land and water management.

Also, the impact of COVID-19 on women’s capacity to provide food for their families and care for their loved ones underscores the importance of strengthening their capacities by designing gender responsive actions.

We know the world has the technology and resources to eradicate hunger but finding the right policies and the will to implement them often elude us.

Fortunately, young women and men carrying out evidence-based research in sub-Saharan Africa are coming up with some possible answers on how to tackle these pressing issues.

Working with the support and guidance of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a research-for-development non-profit, these researchers are aiming to facilitate agricultural solutions to hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation in line with IITA’s goals and particularly its gender research strategy.

Bear in mind that over 60% of all employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, and that women produce up to 80% of foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in local markets. But these women farmers are disadvantaged by a range of factors, such as laws, policies, gender-blind development programs, and entrenched norms and power imbalances within and outside their homes and communities.

Fundamental gender constraints clearly shape how women and men are involved in and benefit from agricultural food systems. Manifested as harmful gender norms, attitudes and power relations, they have a particular impact on how young women participate in value chains or have access to resources such as land, as well as their decision-making powers and how money earned from their labor is spent.

Steven Cole

Gender-blind policies and development interventions do not take into account the different roles and diverse needs of men and women, while gender-accommodative policies confirm that gender constraints exist but can propose ways to work around them for the benefit of women.

IITA’s gender research strategy brings to the surface the underlying causes of gender inequalities to inform and guide policies to address these causes with interventions that reduce poverty and increase gender equality in low-income countries with boosts to job opportunities and economic, food and nutrition security.

In the months before the coronavirus surfaced and with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), IITA launched 80 research fellowships for young African scholars, with an emphasis on young female professionals and students aiming to acquire a master’s or doctoral degree. Grantees are offered training on research methodology, data management, scientific writing, and the production of research evidence for policymaking.

Known as CARE (Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence), the three-year project aims to build our understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact, and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness, and rural farm and non-farm economies.

Achieving these development outcomes requires working with multi-stakeholder groups at multiple levels to transform unequal power relations between female and male youth in various social institutions, including in the household, community, market, and the state.

For example, in southern Benin, graduate student Grace Chabi looked at why young agricultural entrepreneurs are predominately male. Among her policy recommendations are a call to remove gender biases from land ownership, credit, and employment practices. Policies should also facilitate female agripreneurship networks and target funding to agribusinesses owned by women.

Research by Akinyi Sassi in Tanzania found how stereotypes can negatively affect women’s intentions to use information and communication technologies (ICT) to access agricultural market information, but that contrary to such stereotyping, female farmers were more strongly influenced than male farmers by their perception of the value of using phones to find such information. Such gender factors can be considered when promoting ICT use.

Cynthia Mkong of Cameroon has examined the issue of role models, social status, and previous experience in determining why some students are more likely to choose agriculture as their university major. Almost a quarter of young women in Cameroon are unemployed, compared with 11% of young men. Building effective policies to improve the education of girls and household income at all levels could reverse declining youth interest in agriculture.

Adedotun Seyingbo examined employment among Nigerian youth and how gender and other issues, including land access, influence how more young people remain in non-farm employment rather than staying in farm jobs.

Also in Nigeria, Oluwaseun Oginni looked at rural-urban migration and found that 43% of youth migrants are female. A better future, educational opportunities, and marriage are among the reasons young women are leaving rural areas.

Adella Ng’atigwa examined how to empower youth to reduce horticulture postharvest losses in Tanzania and found that women have fewer losses as they are more involved in vegetable production and marketing and are more able to handle perishable crops.

All these research projects also illustrate IITA’s gender research strategy using what is known as an ‘intersectional lens’. This means an examination of deep inequities, sometimes violent and systematic, that intersect with each other: such as poverty, racism, sexism, denial of rights and opportunities, and generational differences. In this way the connections between all struggles for justice and equal opportunities are illuminated.

A gender transformative approach adopted by IITA aims to address the root causes of gender inequalities for more sustained and meaningful change for female and male youth. With such changes, Africa, with the world’s youngest and fastest growing population, will be better equipped to handle its future challenges with women at the forefront.


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Afghanistan, Hope Fading in the midst of Fear and Silence

Credit: Giulio Piscitelli for Emergency

By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, Oct 12 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Distant and blurred, as if it belongs to the past, the war in Afghanistan has never been so fierce and forgotten. On the 7th of October, the country entered the twentieth year since the United States announced the first airstrikes against the Taliban, adding a new chapter to the endless bleeding of this corner of Asia, where more than four decades without peace have left entire generations hopeless.

‘I believe that the [Afghan] people do not remember why we started this war.’

The voice of Giorgia Novello, medical coordinator of the NGO Emergency in Kabul, bursts onto the screen of the theatre where the documentary A hospital in war – Emergency in Afghanistan was premiered last week in Rome. Filmed and produced by Nico Piro, special correspondent of the Italian Rai 3, it is one of the few recently released first-hand reports on the Afghan war. It recounts both the spiral of violence in which the country is still trapped and the tireless efforts of those trying to ease the pain of a jaded population.

International media attention withdrew from Afghanistan with the US and NATO troops in 2014, dooming to oblivion an already underreported conflict, where, in 2019, civilian casualties have reached an unprecedented level.

Hidden victims of an invisible war, civilians are paying the highest price: injured while playing, driving, going to school, providing livelihoods to their families; wounded by bullets, and landmines; victims of explosions and airstrikes.

‘The biggest lie ever told about contemporary wars is that they are fought by armies on battlefields. Indeed, they are fought among people in the middle of villages and in the hearts of cities. That lie pushes people to think that conflicts, being a matter of warriors and soldiers, leaves only them killed and injured, not civilians, which are instead the main victims’, Piro told us at the sidelines of the premiere in Italy.

Never so fierce

Three young male patients are seen in the ICU after surgery. All the boys were injured in a mine blast. October 1st 2017, Emergency Surgical Center for War Victims in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Mathieu Willcocks for Emergency

The Italian NGO Emergency has operated in Afghanistan since 1999. It runs two hospitals for war victims in Kabul and Lashkar Gah, a network of first aid posts in eleven provinces and a medical-surgical centre in Panjshir. Over the past few years, notably from 2017, the number of patients receiving care at its health facilities has significantly and consistently increased.

‘The majority come from the provinces, but they also come from Kabul where explosions are extremely frequent’, Marco Puntin, Emergency’s program coordinator in Afghanistan, reached in the Afghan capital, told us. Fifteen percent of those treated are women and thirty percent are children. The large majority of the patients, many of which civilians, are treated for bullet injuries — 55 percent — or for wounds caused by foreign bodies — 30 percent.

‘The security situation has deteriorated, especially in [the capital]. Our local staff do not leave home at night, travelling after dark is dangerous. If they can, they avoid running that risk. The same for us, internationals’, Puntin said.

Fighting continues in all the provinces, too. Fifteen percent of the patientes admitted at Emergency hospital in Panjshir – the safest place in Afghanistan – are still victims of war coming from neighbouring areas.

After the agreement signed in February between the United States and the Taliban, something has changed. ‘We noticed a reduction in large-scale attacks, but a severe surge in small explosions’, he said. ‘In Kabul, even if small, there are explosions every single day, no day excluded’.

In September, a new spike of violence throughout the country marked the stalling negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Since Sunday, a Taliban military offensive against Afghan security forces has been underway in the Helmand province. Yesterday Emergency’s Surgical Centre for War Victims in Lashkar-Gah received forty-eight patients with war injuries, four of whom had already died upon arrival. “This morning, a rocket flew into the city, and we immediately received six patients due to the explosion. Today, we have received one person who was dead on arrival and another eleven seriously injured patients have been hospitalised. Six have already been treated and discharged,” Puntin said in a note to the press.

“Whilst in Doha there is talk of peace, the violence here in Afghanistan doesn’t stop. Civilians are already paying the price for this new wave of fighting in Helmand, ” Puntin added.

Finghtings are raging while COVID-19 outbreak continues to challenge the fragile national healthcare system. Between May and June, the spread of the virus forced some hospitals to shut down: ‘That stressed a health system already brought to its knees by forty years of conflict’, Puntin said. Cases are on the rise again, especially along the border with Iran.

Emergency is implementing preventive measures in all its facilities, which include the use of personal protection equipment, the reduction of bed capacity to ensure adequate space between beds and specific protocols to minimise the risk of virus transmission.

However, the pandemic was not perceived as a major threat by the Afghan people: ‘Most of them didn’t believe in COVID very much because they have a greater problem: the war. Their priority is to stay alive in the areas where they live, hit more by war than by coronavirus’, he explained.

Staying alive, surviving. And to survive, ‘the only thing to do is not to think . . . You have to try to live normally if you want to preserve your mental health’, Puntin said.

But Afghans know that every day can be their last.

‘Recently, a friend in Kabul, a well-educated young man, who has a good job and a healthy family, told me something which I hold dear. “When I leave home in the morning, I kiss my kids many and many times because it can be the last time I see them.” This describes very well what living in Afghanistan means today’, Piro told us.

Living hopelessly, dying in silence

Life has changed dramatically since the end of the Isaf mission, according to Piro, who has been covering the conflict since 2006. ‘Conflict-related violence has increased, and criminality is on the rise with robbery and kidnapping on a daily basis’, he said.

Nonetheless, it is not just a matter of violence and criminality.

‘After 2001, people really believed in a new and greater Afghanistan, a new phase of peace and prosperity. Now they are completely hopeless waiting for the worst yet to come’, he added.

Fragile signs of hope are seen in the response of the people: ‘From what we see, from our patients and from our local staff, there aren’t many positive elements. I saw a few. The positive thing is that since a couple of years, rallies for peace are proliferating. People can’t stand it anymore. Forty years of constant war: They can’t stand it anymore’, Puntin stressed.

Peace would not only mean ceasing the Afghan people’s suffering, it could also impact well beyond the country’s borders — according to Piro — stopping opium, heroin and methamphetamine production; weakening the Islamists movements in the bordering ex-soviet republics; halting migrations; downsizing Pakistan’s power in the area and so its impact on the Kashmir tensions, possibly bringing stability and prosperity to that entire sector of Asia.

‘Peace is closer than ever’, Piro said. However, the Italian journalist believes that the Afghan people are not giving peace a chance: allowing the Taliban to return to power could mean a peace ‘potentially worse than war’ for many Afghans, forcing ‘the best part of the country — people who fought for and built freedom of press, women’s right, civil and human rights, democracy’ — to flee the country to avoid retaliation.

In 2018, when the documentary, which will be realised in English, was filmed, Piro was almost the only foreign journalist in Afghanistan during the Parliamentary elections. ‘Since 2014, Afghanistan has been forgotten by the international media. Why? Security, the rising Syria topic, budget cuts and so on. All of those reasons are true, but we have to admit that the media made a big mistake because in leaving Afghanistan behind, we, as reporters, did what the politicians wanted us to do. Forgetting Afghanistan meant giving impunity to politicians and their decision to begin and expand an impossible war’, he said.

In silence, hope is fading as in silence Afghans continue to die.

“In this country, divided on everything … just death seems left to unify everyone ’. The voice from the screen chills the audience, dazed by realizing that the conflict in Afghanistan has never come to an end.

This article was first published by Degrees of Latitude


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Q&A: Women in Mali Play Critical Role in Preventing and Resolving Conflicts

The issue of women and peacekeeping has been especially crucial during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. But the COVID-19 pandemic has has had a great negative impact on women in Mali in their peace building efforts. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

The issue of women and peacekeeping has been especially crucial during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. But the COVID-19 pandemic has has had a great negative impact on women in Mali in their peace building efforts. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Samira Sadeque

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the safety and sense of community for many women in Mali given the travel restrictions and lockdowns in place, Bassirou Gaye, an assistant researcher for a 2019 report on the role of Mali women in peacekeeping, told IPS this weekend.

“This pandemic has undermined peace building initiatives such as training sessions, exchange meetings, trips to share ideas and good practices among women,” Gaye said. “Barrier measures meant that women could no longer meet in large numbers.”

Gaye spoke with IPS following a roundtable meeting last week where the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres discussed, with women leaders from the Central African Republic, Cyprus, Darfur and Mali, the role of women’s leadership in taking forward the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda for the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative.

He highlighted how the issue of women and peacekeeping has been especially crucial during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

“In the COVID-19 crisis, it has been women who have had the trust of divided communities to credibly disseminate public health messaging,” Guterres said. “Yet, it is women who are under siege, bearing disproportionate care and economic burdens and facing an alarming surge of violence in the home.”

At the roundtable, representatives from the four countries shared their views: Bintou Founé Samaké, president of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) and Minister of Women Children and Family Affairs in Mali; Magda Zenon, Cypriot peace and human rights and civil society activist; Lena Ekomo, who leads the network for women’s leadership in the Central African Republic; and Nawal Hassan Osman, a Gender Darfur State’s Advisor in Sudan, and a member of the Darfur Women’s Platform.

At the talk, Osman lauded the women who were on the frontlines of Sudan’s 2019 revolution, “bearing all the acts of the human rights violation and atrocities from the security force of the former regime”.

She added that the current pandemic has also affected rule of law and accountability in cases of conflict-related sexual violence.

Her concerns are similar to the ones voiced by others at the roundtable.

“Day after day, year after year,  we are paying a price because of our own biases and because of discrimination that exists — we need to be able to do better,” Guterres said at the roundtable.

In his call to ensure the implementation of shared commitments about women’s role in peace building, the Secretary-General reiterated the crucial and urgent need to recognise women’s participation.

“Today, women’s participation is a cause, we must make it a norm,” he said. “That is how we will transform international peace and security. That is how we will build a peaceful future.”

Excerpts of the interview with Gaye follow. It has been edited for clarity purposes.

Inter Press Service (IPS): How has COVID-19 pandemic affected women in peacebuilding in Mali?

Bassirou Gaye (BG): COVID-19 has had a great negative impact on women in Mali in their peace building efforts [such as those mentioned above: training sessions, exchange meetings, trips to share ideas and good practices]. These unique conditions which create a safe space for women cannot be replicated via videoconferences.

The health crisis has also affected the economic activities (small businesses) that allow some women to ensure the functioning of their associations through membership fees. It is also important to note that many international structures that support women’s organisations have stopped their activities because of the pandemic.

IPS: In 2012, Mali faced a huge crisis following an Islamist insurgency in the country that led to an exodus of tens of thousands of Malians. Your report discusses at length the 2012 conflict. In what ways has that  informed women’s participation in peace and security efforts?

BG: In my opinion, the 2012 crisis has been a trigger for women to take a greater interest in governance and, more specifically, in peace and security issues despite political and cultural obstacles. They have started to better organise themselves and join forces to develop ideas, projects and initiatives for peace building. Before 2012, there was no such thing. Women’s organisations are now multiplying training and sensitisation activities on issues of conflict, security, peace and reconciliation in favour of women. In addition, many international organisations have multiplied their accompaniment of women in their peace building efforts. For example, they offer funding and capacity building activities to women.

IPS: What role do women currently play in the peace process in Mali?

BG: For several reasons, the place of women is very important in peace building initiatives in Mali. Women are at the heart of the conflict and they are the first victims: forced marriages, sexual violence, forced displacement in refugee camps, restrictions on freedom, imposition of the veil, difficulty in accessing health care, etc. Women can therefore better explain the multiple forms of insecurity than men and make proposals for concrete solutions.

In addition, women are better able to raise awareness and conduct training sessions for the many women who are not familiar with national and international legal and political texts and frameworks relating to women’s rights and their participation in conflict resolution and management.

IPS: What challenges do women in Mali face in peace building efforts in the country?

BG: Malian women face many challenges to their participation in peace building. These

challenges can be categorised on several levels:

  • Social challenges: According to Malian customary and religious beliefs, women belong in the home, not in public life. Therefore, they should not be involved in the management of public affairs or in activities outside the home. If a woman, especially if she is married, engages in such activities, her family (her husband, father or brother) must first give their consent, which is often unlikely. Thus, these beliefs confine them to a background role and mean that the use of women’s expertise and potential is generally not systematic. In Mali, many women who work in organisations (associations, think tanks) for peace building, conflict resolution or women’s rights advocacy [tend to have] marital problems with husbands or their families. They are poorly appreciated by society, especially if they spend more time at work.
  • There is also a lack of accessible training and information on peace and security issues. Numerous studies show that they are among the least informed segments of society.
  • There is also a lack of willingness on the part of political decision-makers to involve women more in the management of political affairs so that they have the opportunity to influence decision-making processes. In December 2015, Law 052 was passed in Mali, establishing a 30 percent quota for women’s appointments to national institutions and legislative bodies. This initiative was welcomed as a victory. However, this law has not been respected by the current government, which includes only 16 percent women.