UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the rural western region of Nepal in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, women and marginalized farmers had limited access to healthcare facilities, financial support, food and relief measures, which had negative impacts on their health, family well-being and income.
Their inspirational experiences of overcoming these challenges are among those spotlighted in “Gender, Food, and COVID-19: Global Stories of Harm and Hope,” a new book co-edited by Paige Castellanos, Carolyn Sachs and Ann Tickamyer, gender scholars in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
The book details how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts gender, agriculture and food systems worldwide, told from the personal accounts of scholars, practitioners and community members. A virtual book launch on March 21 brought together chapter authors to share their accounts.
Castellanos, Sachs and Tickamyer got the idea for the book in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing that there would be an effect, particularly on women and marginalized communities.
“I think at the start of the pandemic, everybody was wondering what was going to happen, how long this is going to last, and right away we knew that there were going to be implications for women across the world,” said Castellanos, assistant research professor in Ag Sciences Global.
The three faculty members had built connections through the college’s Gender Equity through Agricultural Research and Education (GEARE) initiative, which brings together a team of faculty from across the college dedicated to addressing global gender issues.
They created a blog, “Gender, Food, Agriculture, and Coronavirus,” with the help of the GEARE initiative and support from fellow faculty members. Castellanos stressed the timeliness of having people share their stories, saying that they tend to fall through the cracks, especially in times of crisis.
“It’s really important to share these stories,” she said. “Many of these stories — no matter whether we are in a pandemic or not — are often untold. Particularly during the pandemic, it’s easy to forget about many of the impacts in different parts of the world on marginalized groups of people.”
She also noted that the contributions to this book were not like formal research but instead were anecdotal accounts of people’s experiences in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which added more of a personal element to the book.
Castellanos and Sachs, professor emerita of rural sociology and women, gender, and sexuality studies, already had a connection to Routledge publishing in the United Kingdom after previously publishing a COVID-19 epilogue for its “Handbook on Gender and Agriculture” in 2020, which also included Penn State faculty members Leif Jensen and Kathy Sexsmith as co-editors. They proposed their idea for the book based on the blog entries they received.
One of the challenges of writing and assembling the book was selecting the blog entries that would be included. Because Routledge had a strict word count and wanted a set number of chapters, the editors had to be meticulous in which entries to include, which was no easy task.
“We organized them around the realities of food insecurity and women’s increased burdens for work in agriculture, food systems and care in the household, community and workplace, exacerbating existing and new inequalities and creating challenges to research and policy necessary for addressing these issues,” said Tickamyer, professor emerita of rural sociology and demography.
They wanted to ensure that the book contained geographical representation while also focusing on thematic areas that expanded on the conversation of the gendered and food system-related impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for takeaways from the book, Castellanos said she hopes people will recognize the significance and urgency of sharing these stories and that they will deepen the conversation on inequality and inequity in the agricultural sector that stretched during the pandemic.
“My hope is by having a book like this, we can continue to highlight the importance of addressing these inequities and learn from the pandemic to make real change, though there is already a bit of a return to the status quo,” she said.
Tickamyer explained that “Gender, Food, and COVID-19” also provides insight into how people were able to adapt to the pandemic while also recognizing that there are issues that need to be addressed.
“It also illustrated the many moving efforts to survive and thrive under these conditions,” she said. “We hope that making these issues more visible will assist in the effort to create more equitable systems.”
“Gender, Food, and COVID-19: Global Stories of Harm and Hope” is available now on the Routledge website.
The book’s availability for free public download was made possible through the Howard T. Wallace Faculty Development Award. Castellanos received the award and used the funding to purchase open access rights.
The Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education and Ag Sciences Global also provided support to the team.
–Amy Duke, Penn State University