Women, men and gender minorities are differently impacted by COVID-19. In this blog Lynda Keeru explores measures to mitigate the gendered impacts of COVID-19 in pandemic responses in Nigeria. She draws on the recent webinar. ‘How has Nigeria responded to the gendered impacts of COVID-19’ which is based on findings of a report covering the primary and secondary gendered impacts of COVID-19.
Global policy created to respond to outbreaks is gender neutral and outbreak responses consistently fail to meaningfully include gender analysis. A gender responsive pandemic plan is one which takes into consideration the intersectional needs of women, men and gender minorities in planning, data collection, response and recovery. This includes how women, men and gender minorities experience differential primary short-term and secondary long-term social, economic, security and health impacts.
Patience Agada pointed out that Nigeria’s COVID-19 response plan focusses on COVID-19 infections and the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. She highlighted that the plan does not specifically mention women or gender but includes measures aimed at poor and vulnerable groups. In terms of the primary impact of the pandemic – men compromise 60% of the confirmed infection cases and 71% of the mortality rate. Men are 60% more likely to die in comparison to women; and this is attributed to their health seeking behavior and their lack of engaging in preventive measures such as the use of sanitizers and masks.
Livelihood and social protection
Heang-Lee Tan explored some of the secondary impacts of the pandemic. About 90% of Nigerian women are in the informal sector and most have little to no social protection. Measures such as lockdowns and closures of markets have greatly impacted on the survival of their businesses because of the lack of money and insurance. Unfortunately, assistance after COVID-19 hit, largely targeted the formal sector. Many of the businesses that were male dominated were not classified as essential services and after the loss of their jobs, women were forced to become sole breadwinners.
The closure of schools affected over 18 million female learners. There is increased risk of sexual coercion, teenage pregnancies and child marriage with girls out of school; with the poorest families most affected. Extra domestic labour also significantly affected girls’ school attendance. Social cultural norms in Nigeria also influence a number of families to prioritize the education of male children over the female ones. The government tried providing access to digital and eLearning platforms during the pandemic but there were challenges such as the power supply.
Women comprise 60% of the health workforce and are overrepresented in occupations that have high patient contact such as nursing which increased their COVID-19 exposure to very high percentages. The workers went on several strikes due to lack of PPE, unpaid salaries and hazard allowances, lack of life insurance and mental issues related to the pandemic. In the midst of all the aforementioned challenges, health workers were expected to provide for their families even with the government’s announced plan to cut its primary healthcare budget by 43%.
Between March and April 2020, gender-based violence nearly quadrupled in places that were under full lockdown. Unfortunately, many female students were raped and murdered and this sparked nationwide protests. In June 2020, because of these cases of women who were raped and murdered, the Nigerian Governor’s forum declared a state of emergency on sexual- and gender-based violence. Despite women being on the frontline of the pandemic’s response, they are totally underrepresented in COVID-19 leadership with only two women of twelve Presidential Taskforce members. Women were also featured less in COVID-19 news in comparison to men
Amy Oyekunle ran through a list of recommendations to strengthen the COVID-19 response in Nigeria.
- It is critical to develop a gender responsive pandemic response plan and invest in gender responsive social protection structures and mechanisms across all states. Livelihood relief is most essential in the informal sector and especially improved access to bank accounts and digital literacy for women in the informal sector.
- Increase access to education by increasing investments for poor and conflict prone settings, public schools like better internet, access to solar system and electricity in schools. Additionally, systems and structures conducive and enabling for learning must be invested in across all states.
- Protecting the mental and physical health of workers by addressing workplace health and safety is needed. There is also need to prioritize salary improvement and governance structures to promote gender equity
- Ensure gender parity in participation in the COVID-19 decision-making bodies and address power relations within these institutions which prevent women’s suggestions from being taken up. Ultimately, it is important for government and all stakeholders including donors, development partners, women’s organizations and groups to pay attention to the importance of women’s organizations during the pandemic
This webinar was organized by the Gender and COVID-19 Project. The moderator was Rosemary Morgan. The speakers were Patience Agada, Heang-Lee Tan and Amy Oyekunle.