A Network of Rural Women Producers of T&T member tends to her tamarind crop in Moruga.

President, Network of Rural Women Producers of T&T

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue, it is a profound shock to our societies and economies, with vulnerable groups feeling the brunt of the pandemic through the additional strain on resources, food security and family livelihoods. Of particular interest is the impact on our rural producers, and in particular, our female rural producers.

Women, who are most often the primary caregivers in the home, have also been seen playing major roles in response efforts worldwide as frontline responders, health professionals, community volunteers, transport and logistics managers and more, making critical contributions to address the outbreak every day.

On the other side of the coin are the women, especially those in rural areas, facing a wide variety of risks as a direct result of this pandemic, such as loss of income and food shortages as a result of the lockdowns. These women and households are often most in need of external assistance to ameliorate immediate suffering and prevent more severe effects.

Locally, the situation for our rural women is just as serious. Female farmers have been afraid to return to their farms, which were often picked clean through praedial larceny during the lockdown. Additionally, many are unable to plant at this time because they were unable to properly prepare the land for planting due to the national lockdown.

Vendors have not only been unable to sell their produce but also have been unable to find the raw material to manufacture the value-added products like sauces and other food products.

The assistance grants that were offered by the State have not yet materialised for many women who have made applications almost two months ago. More nefarious are the situations that many of these women find themselves trapped in when they have to remain at home—around the world and in Trinidad and Tobago, we’ve seen domestic violence rates skyrocket. These women, often the centres of their community, are struggling to see a way out.

Beyond the COVID crisis, however, is the threat of the growing impacts of climate change. Women are almost always disproportionally more affected by climate change and its impacts than men.

Some estimates indicate that, globally, 80 per cent of persons displaced by climate change are women.

From increasing incidents of vector-borne diseases like Zika and Dengue, to the rising price of food products, to increasing extreme weather events in the Caribbean, women’s vulnerability will multiply these impacts across society.

Through the work of the EU-funded ‘CSOs for Good Environmental Governance’, the Network of Rural Women Producers of T&T (NRWPTT) has been working with its female leaders to help increase the ability of rural women’s organisations to have a stronger and more powerful voice in advocating for a healthier environment across their communities.

The NRWPTT has also been actively engaged in the fight against COVID-19 from inception. Five rural communities within the NRWPTT are currently engaged in preparing and distributing hampers to vulnerable families. The network is also engaged in the production of fabric face masks for those in need. To date, 500 face masks have been distributed. As we approach the hurricane season, exacerbated by climate change, the network is currently accessing funds to train women and girls in Leadership in Climate Change and the impact of natural disasters.

We must not forget that as rural producers, heads of communities and change-makers in their own right, these women’s voices and leadership must remain at the forefront in this pandemic.

The Network of Rural Women Producers of T&T is a partner on the European Union-funded Action ‘CSOs for Good Environmental Governance’ that is working to enhance the capacity of T&T’s civil society for governance of environmental transparency and accountability in the country’s extractive industries.