How COVID–19 is affecting the socio–economic conditions of women in Nigeria
IDP Camp, Wassa Community, Apo, Abuja, Nigeria in February 2020
Written by Ruth Duniya
From the Global North to the Global South, regardless of social classifications, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all. The trending mantra- ‘we are all in this together’ resonates across borders. The socio-economic conditions of millions of people globally have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Women in the Global South, many of whom were already living below the poverty line are the most affected, as many of these women are responsible for providing food and means of livelihood for their families. Those in the rural areas, who before the advent of COVID-19 relied on subsistence farming, and the urban poor who depended on petty trading for daily income to feed their families, are the most impacted by the pandemic.
Evidence from Nigeria indicates how women are being impacted by COVID-19. They have lost their meagre livelihood during the pandemic. The food security of poor households was significantly threatened due to restrictions on movement, these women who usually fend for their families from their daily income are unable to provide household care. Women in the North Eastern part of the country are most affected by the pandemic. Faced with challenges, such as sexual and gender-based violence, as well as poverty brought about by the Boko Haram insurgency these women and their families most of whom are currently living in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps are confronted with increased food insecurity. Living in overcrowded IDP camps, most of these women are in daily search of menial jobs to provide for their families as support from government and other non-state agencies has not adequately addressed the food insecurity within displaced communities. COVID-19 restrictions on movement had made it difficult for displaced women to find jobs. The pandemic has also taken a toll on the small-scale enterprises these women were doing to support their families. The condition has become so deplorable such that the menace of street begging among disadvantaged children which is common practice in parts of Northern Nigeria has increased drastically. Some women whose source of livelihood has been depleted due to the pandemic have resorted to street begging along with their children in major cities across Nigeria.
The socio-economic challenges of women in, and beyond, Nigeria as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic requires increased collaborative actions by state-governments, the private sector and international organisations, particularly, UN agencies such as the UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA as they are agencies for development, children’s welfare and maternal health respectively. First, there should be firm action on domestic violence. Laws against gender-based violence in a developing country like Nigeria need to be more stringent and adequately enforced. The existing law in Nigeria to ensure justice and protection from any form of sexual and gender-based violence against persons in private and public life is the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act (VAPP) signed into law in 2015. Unfortunately, 5 years since the Act was passed into law, only 13 states including Nigeria’s capital city- FCT, out of 36 states in the country have adopted this law. In addition, many cases of gender-based violence are underreported, as many victims do not report their experiences out of fear of being victimised in society. Relevant agencies, such as the Nigerian Police, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Council for Women Societies Nigeria (NCWS) need to ensure victims safety is guaranteed so that sexual and gender-based violence cases are reported without the risk of stigmatisation.
Secondly, the humanitarian relief response should be stepped up as many women and their families from low-income background most affected by the pandemic need to be supported with palliatives measures, such as- food items (for the immediate nutrition of their families) and finance in form of a grant scheme (to enable them start up micro-businesses to support themselves and their families post-COVID-19). Although, the government of Nigeria through the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development with support from the private sector and international organisations have currently put in place some measures to assist their population during the COVID-19 pandemic, these strategies have so far not been sufficient. For instance, it is alleged that many among the poor in Nigeria have received little support, while some are yet to receive any support from the government.This can be attributed to one key factor- accountability deficit on the part of the relevant government agencies responsible for COVID-19 response, particularly the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development already shrouded in allegations of corruptionon their handling of COVID-19 emergency funds. Before the advent of COVID-19, corruption has been identified as a major limitation to Nigeria’s development.
Admittedly, the world was not prepared for a pandemic. This is evident in the way COVID-19 has affected most economies globally, from developed economies to developing economies such as Nigeria. The pre-existing socioeconomic challenges in Nigeria which includes, high rate of unemployment and inadequate basic social services, such as healthcare have been worsened by COVID-19, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable groups, particularly, women and children. In view of this challenges, partnership arrangements with development agencies and the private sector, along with a strong political will by the Nigerian government is imperative to ensure that the poor and most vulnerable in society are adequately supported socio-economically in the short term and post-COVID-19. Going forward, as Nigeria, and indeed other developing economies have put together short term economic and social development measures to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on their societies, long term economic and social development policies should also be drafted as a matter of urgency to ensure recovery and sustainable growth beyond COVID-19.
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