The concerns of women and girls have not been given sufficient attention in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was the position of panellists at a webinar organised by Plan International Nigeria, Wednesday, on the topic “Women, Girls and COVID-19: Issues, Impact and Opportunities for Gender Responsive Social Transformation.”
They called on governments at all levels in the country to develop specific protection and support for women and girls in dealing with the pandemic.
The discussion, hosted by Plan International Nigeria’s Country Director, Dr.. Hussaini Abdu, noted that there had not been sufficient attention paid to issues specific to women.
The discussants include the Special Advisor to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Investments Programme, Mrs. Maryam Uwais; Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, Idayat Hassan; Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Ramatu Budah Aliyu; Senior Gender Equality Advisor, Plan International Nigeria, Obianuju Osude, and Programme Director, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu.
They said many women, especially those in crisis-affected communities are in double jeopardy as they have to now contend with health issues in addition to the challenges of coping with insecurity and internal displacement.
While the panellists acknowledged that effort had been made by the government to respond to the economic and other social challenges posed by the pandemic, it was also noted that some of the efforts came out late and inadequate, especially as they do not pay attention to issues affecting women.
They observed that some of the concerns noted about the response arose because “we are always a latecomer with slow response.”
For Maryam Uwais, there was need to improve on the response system, admitting that the cash transfer palliative used the social register that was developed before the present health crisis, which made it impossible for other needy persons to be reached.
She, however, revealed that the register was being updated to address the existing gaps.
The CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, expressed regrets that many Nigerians still do not believe that COVID-19 was real.
She said: “People still do not believe that it (COVID-19) is real. It is still about the distrust in the system. People think it is another oil boom for public officials.”
She blamed historical poor accountability and corruption for the lack of trust in government from the people who do not believe that COVID-19 was real, but a means for personal enrichment.
She called on government to work harder to get the trust of the people as it was only through the cooperation of the people that the disease would be defeated.
Cynthia Mbamaluof YIAGA Africa and Obianuju Osude of Plan International both lamented how gender-blind the government’s response to the pandemic has been.
“Gender-sensitive response strategy to the pandemic is what we need right now. We need to be futuristic in our law-making and planning because even in the attempt by the legislators to respond to the pandemic, the legislation is still largely like before; it doesn’t address specific needs of women and children,” said Cynthia.
On her part, Obianuju said: “The involvement of women is not coming out as would be expected. We do not have the gender-aggregated data on the beneficiaries.
“There are other women who already have certain conditions before the pandemic such as HIV; we are not seeing a strategy that addresses their concern.”
She further advised that there is an urgent “need to strengthen the protection system for the informal sector where the women are mostly engaged.
“There is also the need to address the issue of gender concerns in the digital space. This includes issue of capacity and gender transformative messaging.”
UNICEF’s Ramatu Budah Aliyu commended the cash transfer initiative of the Federal Government, which paid significant attention to women-led households but noted that same could not be said of the food distribution.
To address this, she advised that “we need to engage more with the system that our communities know and engage people through them. We need to engage more with women in our communities.”