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Post-Covid-19 committee for creative industry: A writer, gender perspective

By Ekaete George
31 May 2020   |   4:27 am
When I heard news about the creation of the Post-COVID-19 Committee for the Creative Industry by the Federal Government of Nigeria, I became curious about two things, namely: Writers’ representation and gender representation.

Bolanle Austen Peters

When I heard news about the creation of the Post-COVID-19 Committee for the Creative Industry by the Federal Government of Nigeria, I became curious about two things, namely: Writers’ representation and gender representation. My curiosity stems from the belief that a group with a mandate as huge and important as that of the committee, must be inclusive of these important interests. These are constituencies, which I proudly belong and do expatiate on their importance as follows.

COVID-19 and writers
As a writer, I was disappointed at the (initial) exclusion of writers, the sector that ‘services’ or ‘preserves’ a large percentage of the creative sector, my tribe of creatives. I rejected the argument that the exclusion of writers was because Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has no national executive at the moment (due to a postponed and yet to be rescheduled national election).

Clearly, since the committee members were not entirely heads of organisations, but also included reputable individuals who have distinguished themselves in their various sectors, there is an abundance of literary icons and writers of repute whose input can enrich the committee. Thanks to the swift response of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to complaints about exclusion of some sectors, B. M. Dzukogi would not have been included in the committee to represent ANA.

I have been acquainted with Dzukogi for many years and have been especially impressed by his commitment to grooming the next generation of Nigerian writers. I believe that he possesses the pedigree and integrity that will enable him to rise above existing internal divisions and incorporate the needs of all shades of writers in ANA, and other writers’ bodies in Nigeria. Literature is an essential service to humanity. It is the birthplace of creative expressions of our shared humanity even in these perilous times. I congratulate Dzukogi and wish him success on this service to Nigerian literature.

Globally, COVID-19 has upended life, as we knew it. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and even much more livelihoods have disappeared. In Nigeria, since February 27 when the index case was recorded in Lagos, there have been thousands more confirmed cases, more than a hundred deaths, immeasurable grief and hardships, lockdowns and a spiraling downwards of the economy.

Writers have not been spared. When lockdowns and shutdowns of public places began, schools, libraries, bookshops and cultural events were its earliest casualties. Only in recent years, with the emergence of the Internet and digital platforms have writers been able to distribute their works outside of libraries, bookshops and cultural events. Even then, not that many writers in Nigeria have their works available on digital platforms. Some who have may not possess the marketing and promotions acumen that is required to get substantial traction. So, writers, especially those who depend on their book sales for a living, are facing daunting economic challenges. Also, as with the society in general, COVID-19 negative outcomes affect writers in varying ways.

Any intervention that is going to be effective has to take into consideration some differences There are writers who are professionals in other fields, there are writers whose day-to-day nine-to-five is their writing, there are writers who are students, there are writers who are unemployed graduates, there are writers who are disabled, there are writers of poetry, prose, drama, screenwriters etc. Then to touch a bit on the gender question, there are men and women writers. I will dwell more on women writers shortly.

COVID-19 And Gender
So, I went through the list of the Creative Industries Committee inaugurated on 19 May 2020, and found that out of 22 members, six were women, thus leaving female representation at 27.7 per cent. Firstly, I want to congratulate the very distinguished women of the committee on their appointments: Hajia Sa’a Ibrahim (Committee Vice Chairman), Bolanle Austen Peters, Chioma Ude, TY Bello, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, Anita Eboigbe (Committee Secretary). I join all Nigerian women in rooting for these women to make quality contributions that will enhance their various sectors. I urge them to also vigorously articulate and defend women’s interests.

There is no question that women’s voices and women’s leadership are crucial. The creative industries are composed of many women. COVID-19 affects women differently than men. It is for this reason that I often wonder how a COVID-19 Presidential Task Force with just one woman is able to make decisions that reflects the different needs of Nigerian women.

I am not the only woman who watches the daily briefings and wonders what perspectives would have been considered had they been a pregnant woman, a disabled woman, a nursing mother, a single mother, a woman married to a doctor or nurse, a woman medical professional, a market woman, a clergy woman, a southern Nigerian woman, and so much more.

I read a report about the experiences of nursing mothers who were fainting because they had little or no food to eat while also breast-feeding their infants. I could relate deeply as someone who breastfed for more than two years and loved it. No woman should have to make the choice between severe hunger pangs and breastfeeding her baby! If I find myself in a position to make decisions on palliatives, I would definitely put providing relief for these women on the table.

But if there were going to be a vote, it would be necessary to have more voices lobbying for my position. Here is where I implore the women on the Creative Industries Committee to work together, and with the men, to tackle the issues that affect women.

It is a fact that women and girls are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In many sectors, women are among the lowest income earners. On the other hand, the burden of care during this healthcare crisis rests mostly on the shoulders of women. Now that most families are locked downed in their homes, the responsibilities that have traditionally been reserved for women and girls have increased.

Women now spend more time caring for children and the elderly, cooking, washing, cleaning, and carrying out more homemaking duties than ever before. Usually, when women are preoccupied with caregiving responsibilities, their own needs are crowded out and neglected. I have spoken to women writers who are overwhelmed with family and caregiving responsibilities so much they have no time or energy left to write.

And then there is the issue of mental wellness. Amidst a reality fraught with uncertainty, mothers are anxious for the health of their children, some women are anxious for the health and wellbeing of their elderly parents, wives are anxious about their husbands. It is not as if men do not have these anxieties, and they rightly should, it is gender roles that dictate caregiving is for women while providing financially is for men that becomes the issue.

With the resultant economic crisis of COVID-19, households have watched their livelihoods disappear, while women with spouses or partners have to also deal with men who can no longer provide. For many women and girls, the negative fallout of COVID-19 takes extreme forms like Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Indeed, reported and unreported cases of domestic violence against have seen an exponential rise since the outbreak of this pandemic.

Wherever female writers fall in this spectrum of experiences, the impact on their creative economy now and in the long term is unique. It goes without saying that there can be no one size fits all remediation for creative people. I implore the men and women who make up the committee to give due consideration to the peculiar challenges of women. I trust that the distinguished women in the Committee will not hesitate to enlighten their male counterparts if need be. Where these women are limited because of the intersections where they belong, they should reach out and listen to more women, especially those who are not leaders like them, those whose belief systems are different, those whose sexuality are different, those whose ethnicity are different, those who have disabilities, those whose craft are different.

In general, my hope that is that the Committee does a good job of making recommendations that will effectively cushion the losses to our collective creative economy and spur growth.

Creative people are connecting humanity through their art and are enabling the world cope with a health crisis that we have no idea when it will end. At no time in recent history, are people more in need of music, photography, films, books etc., to escape and make sense of their existence.

The men and women who produce these lifesaving works deserve attention. It is commendable that the Federal Government of Nigeria recognises this crucial role and has given us the chance to articulate areas in which they can provide assistance. There is no room for bungling this chance.

I wholeheartedly agree and re-echo the words of the Honorable Minister of Information and Culture, “This is no time for division. All hands must be on deck so the industry can rebound.”

As do all meaningful interventions for development, this effort must situate gender considerations front and center. Where other COVID-19responses crawled, the Committee must run. Their interventions must be solid enough to enable us remain focused on our essential duties of making art. Humanity depends upon our creativity for resilience.
• George, a poet, gender activist, author of Saints and Scoundrels, lives in Port Harcourt