The current global public health emergency as a result of the COVID – 19 pandemic has continued to be a major source of concern for all because of its ravaging impact. One of such impact is the further widening of the gaps of inequalities which is obvious in the almost non involvement of women in the response and recovery to COVID-19. Women are less visible in decision-making, yet, within health emergencies and in the frontline, they are conspicuous as health workers and caregivers and have continued to individually and collectively mobilize for action to end the pandemic in their various communities. In national and state response there is obvious gender gap in the Covid-19 response in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Women Trust Fund held a Webinar on “Women’s Leadership and the Response to COVID -19 in Nigeria” on Thursday, 14 May 2020 to x-ray the benefits of bringing women’s leadership into decision making processes in response to the pandemic as well as the challenges of the non involvement of women.
A resourceful team of panelists was drawn from the civil society, political class, academia, and Government. They were Cynthia Mbamalu – Director of Programs, YIAGA Africa, Dr. Sharon Adetutu Omotoso, Lecturer – Department of Gender Studies, University of Ibadan, Rinsola Abiola – a politician gender advocate and certified public relations practitioner and Honourable Maria Edeko Esq – Commissioner for Social Development and Gender Issues, Edo State. The discussion was moderated by the CEO of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Mufuliat Fijabi. Participants joined the conversation from Nigeria and other parts of the world. The conversation was intense with practical examples drawn from countries that have been able to flatten their curves due to the role women are playing in the response and recovery of COVID 19. Some of the key highlights from the webinar are as listed below:
- The inclusion of women in decision-making processes holds the advantage of ensuring everyone is carried along and is a step towards achieving equality, equity and empathy.
- Women taking leadership during this period should be supported with or without opportunities to be part of government structures while pushing to be included in government decision making processes continues.
- A government response strategy to gender-based violence and a joint task force with representation from both government and civil society for response coordination is an important measure for curtailing the gendered impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Civil society organizations should push for healthcare reform and higher budgetary allocation for healthcare and education. This will enable the country to build a strong healthcare system that can address the needs of the most women and girls.
- Leaders dictate where funding and research goes, from vaccine development to social safety nets. Without women in these positions, subsequent decisions will not adequately address the hurdles women face. This also implies that a great percentage of the country’s population is left behind.
- Several women leaders and women groups have put in effort to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the lives of women (e.g. sensitization targeted at women, provision of palliatives to vulnerable women and coordination efforts to ensure women affected have access to treatment).
- Women currently occupying leadership positions need to push harder for women and to step up and speak up on issues affecting women especially during conversations around the budget review and new appropriations to ensure that decisions made are gender sensitive.
- As CSOs and other organizations review programs and strategy during this era, gender should be integrated as part of the core strategy and they should continue to showcase and promote women’s leadership efforts.
- It is important to have a National template that is gender-sensitive for the distribution of palliatives, to ensure inclusivity.
Women’s leadership must move out of the periphery. Women leaders in different places should also begin to think of what palliatives they can give to fellow women and should also engage the policymakers to ensure that women across Nigeria are adequately reached regardless of their locations whether in the cities or in the villages.