‘As UN Women, at the global level and our country offices, we have strongly underlined the need to look at the gender impact of COVID-19 crisis’
So far, what effort is your office making in collaboration with the Nigerian government to support poor or local women during this critical time, especially as many are unable to meet their daily needs?
OUR efforts as the United Nations is outlined from the very beginning, we don’t want to respond as 19 different agencies of the UN, we want to respond as one UN to support the government and one of the first things we did was to pull resources together to support the federal government to actually procure health equipment such as PPEs (personal protection equipment) and so on.
The initial support that we gave was $2,000, 000 and since then we have been working with the government and with some of the donor partners to establish a COVID-19 basket fund which is a consolidated fund where donors can provide a resource that through the UN, we can use to address some of the social-economic impacts and also continue to address the health challenges of the public.
Now as individual agencies, some of us have also reached out to our counterpart ministries and our partners. So for instance, as UN women, we reached out to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on the 6th of May. We provided the ministry with some symbolic support that is equivalent to $100, 000, to actually procure palliative to give to the vulnerable women and households across the country.
We also recognise that women’s businesses have been badly affected by the crisis, so we liaise with the ministry that even in procuring the food and the sanitary items, which are to be given to the vulnerable households, we should do the procurement from women-owned businesses. So let’s buy the food from women businesses and then give it to women who are the neediest. So that is the approach that we have adopted, we are going to be doing that in 15 states across the federation and the states would be announced by the federal government.
The other important message that we hope that this is going to send is that, as we think through the recovery process, we must consistently be rebuilding businesses; we must ensure that women’s businesses get the right support. All the food procurement that the government is doing and that other partners are going to be doing, let a percentage of the procurement come through women-owned businesses because that is the way we can also help them to resuscitate and make it through this crisis.
So, investing in women-owned businesses in order to support the most vulnerable women is one of the strategies that we are at least working with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs to promote.
Researchers have claimed that more men than women are dying from COVID-19. Does the UN Women have a similar view and what impact will this have on women, if it is true?
If you look at the data globally, it’s not even; the UN women has a global data monitoring system called women count that has been looking at how the virus is affecting women and men differently across the world. It is true that across the world, men are dying more from the virus than women. We are trying to get the data of deaths in Nigeria right now and we are working with our WHO colleagues on that because right now the data we have in Nigeria speaks to how many women have been infected versus how many men have been infected.
In terms of infection rate, it is true that more men have been infected with about 68 per cent versus about 32 per cent women. This is the data that we get. But in terms of the deaths, we are also waiting to get the disaggregation of data on that but from our global review. It is true that more men are dying globally but the picture is not even across all countries because there are some countries where more women are infected than men yet even in those countries, more men are dying so there is a lot I think that still needs to be studied to understand why it is that the virus seems to be killing more men than women.
Having said that, it is true that the secondary impact of COVID-19 pandemic is greater for women because they are the majority in the frontline as healthcare workers because they are primary caregivers in the home because they are out there doing jobs in the markets, supermarkets during this period of the lockdown which is quite risky and exposes them more to the risk of contracting the virus. The impact on women can’t be measured just by death; that is why we have to look at the secondary impact.
We know that in crisis, we shift resources away from other sectors to respond to the crisis. So, for sectors that mostly concern women such as women’s health, sexual reproductive health, maternal health- these sectors may be suffering because we are shifting all the resources to address the pandemic. Other areas such as increase in maternal mortality rate, we also have to observe it, so that when we assess the impact, we have to also look at the secondary impact which sometimes creates more negative consequences for women overall.
Has the UN Women put in place any guide or template for women to overcome the pandemic?
As UN Women, both at the global level and also in our country offices, we have strongly underlined the need to look at the gender impact of COVID-19 crisis and have designed a number of approaches in the face of the pandemic.
One of the first things we did in Nigeria at the start of the crisis here was to actually elaborate a brief on the gender implications of the COVID-19 in early April, shortly after the lockdown began. So, at the UN, we were able to mobilise and stress the need from the very beginning to address that. The gender brief we put out, for instance, addresses issues of women and equal access to information. We know that women don’t access information in the same way as men and a lot of the channels women use to access information whether it is in the market in the church or whether it is in their cooperatives and so on, a lot of those avenues have been closed due to the lockdown.
We recognise that access to information is very key, so ensuring that there was a specific intervention for women to access information was one of the first issues.
We also had underlined the fact that women were in the frontline as caregivers and as majority health workers and as such, that needed to be recognised and effort needed to be put in place to ensure that they are protected from contracting the virus and that they also have to access to testing opportunities.
The other point we also highlighted was violence against women. We were seeing what was happening in other parts of the world such as Asia, where this health crisis had hit earlier. We know that the report coming in pointed to a rise in gender-based violence. So we ensured that the brief that we put out underlined the need to protect women and to ensure that services that are available to women should they become victims of gender-based violence, should also be considered as essential services during the lockdown.
I also addressed the issue of the economic impact on women because a lot of them are in the informal sector and with the lockdown, they are going to be badly affected. Therefore, we basically outlined some of the key areas where women are being impacted and how this would be addressed. We have also looked specifically at the private sector’s role and outlined a brief that addresses that. Another analysis was made that goes deeper into the issues of violence against women and gender-based violence during the course of the pandemic to date.
What protective attitudes should women adopt to stay safe from COVID-19?
In terms of protection, women like men have to adhere to the instructions and the guidance that we are receiving from the World Health Organization (WHO) and from the National Center for Diseases Control (NCDC). We must ensure that we maintain hygiene and we must ensure that we wear our protective gear whenever we are out, such as the facemask and also observe the social distance. I think those are the fundamental protection attitudes that we have to have. Of course women by virtue of the fact that they are the majority of the frontline in the health sector with 70 per cent, and even when we go out to the supermarkets to procure essential items during this period, we get exposed. So the people who are most exposed are women. And then when we come back home, even when people are not so well, it is women that have the burden of responsibility to maintain a healthy home. It is important that women have access to information and as we learn more about this virus and how it is working, women would then be able to understand any change or development in their health.