Navigating Polycrises: Women’s Resilience in a Changing World

By |2024-01-05T12:59:44+01:00December 19th 2023|Gender and Inequalities, Resilient Cities and Climate|

Navigate global polycrises with Nicole Paganini as we unveil women’s resilience in urban challenges, community kitchens, and amidst rising food crises.

As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of global challenges, the concept of polycrises — where multiple crises intersect — is gaining increasing attention. Drawing insights from the Urban Food Futures Opinion Brief “Exploring intersectionality and crises through Cape Town’s feminist flavours” this article sheds light on research conducted in Cape Town by TMG Research and a network of women running community kitchens. With a keen gendered perspective, we delve into the unique impact of these crises on women, particularly in urban and low-income contexts, emphasising the pivotal role of social capital during tumultuous times.

Global Dynamics, Local Realities: Understanding the Intertwined Realities of Global Challenges

In our intricate world, global crises wield the power to shape the destinies of nations and steer the course of humanity. Whether they emerge from environmental, economic, or social causes, these challenges demand collective attention and action as their consequences resonate beyond borders. Within every community, amid the ebb and flow of daily life, a quieter yet profound struggle unfolds, etched by local realities, economic hardships, and socio-cultural complexities.
Households and individuals navigate their own crises, shaping unique paths through the tribulations of existence. In this interplay between global crises and local challenges, the world’s future is not just shaped by grand forces but equally by individual lived experiences, making it crucial to address challenges at every societal level.

This interplay unfolds amid multifaceted global poly-crises—situations characterised by the convergence of multiple crises. These crises increase fragility, leading to political instability, involuntary migration, unrest, violence, and hunger (WEF, 2023). At the core of poly-crises lie two driving forces: the reaction speed to climate change and geoeconomic confrontation.
These factors are profoundly impacting our global ability to match the supply and demand of natural resources. The complexity of polycrises lies in their interconnected nature, with each crisis exaggerating the impact of the other. As we explore the complex drivers identified by the WEF, a critical question emerges: How does this intricate web of polycrises uniquely impact women?

Building Bridges in Crisis: The Vital Role of Women and Social Capital

The impact of crises on women in urban areas and low-income settlements is profound, shaped by a complex interplay of social, economic, and structural factors such as marginalised housing, lack of safe community spaces, and alarmingly high rates of violence against women (UNICEF, 2023). While governments and change-makers plan interventions, women are left to cope with caring for their families amid mounting crises.
The burden of caregiving and household management intensifies as women take on new roles while facing limited access to social, financial, and environmental capital.

In marginalised environments, women draw upon a crucial resource, especially during polycrisis: social capital. This concept encompasses a dynamic network of relationships, trust, and cooperation within a community. Groenmeyer’s work (2021) describes the increased labour burden on women, especially Indigenous and women of colour during COVID-19.  When formal support systems break away, women turn to each other for support. These connections, often entirely female, are not merely personal: they are the building blocks of social capital and crucial for society’s effective functioning. The global erosion of social capital, as highlighted by WEF (2023), emerges as the fifth-most severe perceived global risk, leading to declines in social stability, well-being, and economic productivity on a worldwide scale.

Recipes for Resilience: Cape Town’s Women, Community Kitchens, and Social Resilience

Amid crises, Cape Town’s women face unique challenges. From COVID-19’s impact on the informal economy to rising food prices, energy crises, gender-based violence, and deep-rooted racism, the complexity of their struggle is unparalleled.
Working with women in high-density, low-income Cape Flats since 2020, we’ve learned from their coping mechanisms, community efforts, and valuable emotional support provision

In the heart of these challenges, representatives of a network of community kitchens, emerge as a beacon of resilience. Providing up to 1,000 meals daily, these kitchens become more than just a source of sustenance—they foster solidarity and stand as a collective challenge to isolating capitalist systems. However, the social capital upon which they relied, especially during COVID-19, now finds itself stretched thin as successive crises strain their coping mechanisms.

Navigating Food Shortages with Resourcefulness

Economic uncertainties cast a shadow over communities, forcing individuals to reimagine culinary choices. Stretching meagre ingredients becomes an art form, showcasing the indomitable human spirit. In kitchens, resourcefulness blossoms as families strive to create affordable meals, commonly based on starches, black tea, sunflower oil, and vegetables.
Delving into the impact of food crises leads us to the exploration of cultural norms that are also reinforcing gender inequalities. Our work examines how women, traditionally the caregivers and food producers are affected by rising food prices. The burdens on women increase as they face the dual pressure to secure food while also grappling with limited resources. For instance, when certain foods become prohibitively expensive, women explore alternatives, opt for seasonal vegetables, or reduce the size of daily meals.

According to the finding of PEJDG (2023), the cost of a typical Cape Town household food basket increased by 11.0 per cent between June 2022 and June 2023. The uptick in process disproportionately affected foods commonly consumed in lower-income households: maize meal witnessed a 20 per cent increase, cabbage surged by 25 per cent, potatoes experienced a 38 per cent rise, and onions skyrocketed by 109 per cent.
The frontline women running community kitchens bear witness to the human impact of these statistics. More people queue for free meals, while a decrease in food donations, forcing them to navigate difficult decisions on feeding, sometimes resorting to personally subsidising community programs, often using elderly grants.

Empowering Tomorrow: The Resilient Thread of Women’s Strength in a World of Polycrises

As we navigate the web of polycrises, women emerge as resilient pillars of strength. Their reliance on social capital becomes a lifeline, offering support and resilience during times of upheaval. The challenges faced by women in Cape Town’s community kitchens underscore the interconnected nature of crises and they illustrate the importance of fostering strong social networks, empowering individuals, and promoting inclusive approaches to build collective resilience. In the face of multifaceted challenges, the women’s collaborative efforts within these kitchens echo a profound call to action for creating a more resilient and interconnected future for all.

The research presented in this article is part of TMG’s Urban Food Futures programme and funded by BMZ through the project “Climate resilient, urban and peri-urban agriculture: Combating the effects of COVID 19 and building resilient, inclusive food systems.”

Nicole Paganini
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