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COVID-19: Panel urges government to pay more attention to women

A panel of discussants at a webinar held in Abuja have asked government to devote more attention to women by developing specific protection and support programmes for them to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panel who featured in a webinar session on the topic: Women, Girls and COVID-19: Issues, Impact and Opportunities for Gender Responsive Social Transformation hosted by Plan International Nigeria’s Country Director, Dr Hussaini Abdu, noted that there has not been sufficient attention paid to issues specific to women.

According to one of the panelists, Special Advisor to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Investments Programme, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, many women, especially those in crisis-affected communities are in ‘double jeopardy’ml as they have to contend with health issues in addition to the challenges of coping with insecurity and internal displacement.

While the panelists acknowledged that effort had been made by the government to respond to economic and other social challenges posed by the pandemic, it was also noted that some of the efforts were inadequate, especially as they do not pay attention to issues affecting women.

Other panel discussants, which included the Director, Center 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, observed that some of the concerns noted about the response arose because “We are always a latecomer with slow response”.

“We have a health system that is small and fragile that cannot attend to the need of the people. The pandemic has hit the vulnerability and fragility of our system”, noted the panellists who called for an urgent and strategic response including increase in the budgetary allocation to the health sector.

“We need to declare a national emergency situation in the health sector in Nigeria. Now people with other life-threatening conditions and women in need of special need are being neglected. We need to localise our responses and look inward. The need for stronger public and private collaboration in the health sector” the panelists advised.

Emphasizing on the grim situation facing women across the country, the panelists noted that “before the pandemic women were already disadvantaged. Now women are more disadvantaged. The health burden and mortality rate of women post-pandemic is going to increase.  The informal sector which is the most affected bears the face of women.”

The special Advisor to the President on Social Investment Programme, Maryam Uwais admitted that there was a 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 social register has not correctly covered the entire country. That process has been on since the cash transfer system began since 2016. It’s a tedious but meticulous process. The social register as the avenue to reach vulnerable people during crisis will make it impossible to reach everywhere.

“The register was done basically with the state apparatus. It is dependent on the political will of the state governors.

“Using it as palliative completely marginalises the communities that have not been reached. I understand the register is being transformed to include areas we don’t have a register yet,” Uwais confirmed.

The CDD Director, Idayat Hassan expressed regrets that many Nigerians still do not believe that COVID-19 was real. “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 said.

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 Mbamalu of 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 said same could not be said of the food distribution.

She said: “For food aid, male households are the key focus apart from cash transfer from the federal government that uses the social register.”

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.”

Source: Voice of Nigeria