UN Response to the COVID-19 Impact on Women and Girls

Women make up 70% of the global health workforce which disproportionately puts them at risk of infection and high levels of stress.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 health crisis in Nigeria with the recording of the first official case on 27 February 2020, the UN System in Nigeria has supported the Government of Nigeria in taking an informed and measured approach to the COVID-19 response. With the recording of increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, it became necessary for the government to take decisive actions in the interest of public health and safety. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari instituted a mandatory lockdown in Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja and Ogun beginning from 31 March 2020. The lockdown measure in the three regions as well as other restrictive measures adopted by various states has had varying implications on the lives of women and girls.

Much like other crises, the COVID-19 pandemic further illuminates the grave inequalities which exist within societies. Women and girls across the world are at increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) in the wake of government social distancing directives. Countries such as Cyprus and Singapore have recorded increases in reports of violence against women and girls (VAWG) by 30% and 33% respectively. In Nigeria, WARIF, a partner organization under the Joint EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, was compelled to keep the crisis centre open after reporting a 64% increase in the reports of domestic and sexual violence. This shadow pandemic has seen one-stop centers at increased capacity, affecting the quality of care provided to victims of VAWG. These factors threaten to undo the progress on gender equality efforts and further marginalize Nigerian women and girls.

Women make up 70% of the global health workforce which disproportionately puts them at risk of infection and high levels of stress. Due to the disruption of regular activity, essential healthcare for women including prenatal, postnatal and contraceptives, as well as lifesaving GBV response services may not be easily accessible to survivors of violence. Health information must be prioritised for the most vulnerable women groups including pregnant women, nursing mothers, women in internally displaced camps, detention facilities and women with disabilities.

During public health crises, community engagement is crucial to information dissemination for women and vulnerable groups. To ensure the provision of access to essential services for women and girls, and to underscore a zero-tolerance message on violence against women and girls (VAWG), UN Women has supported the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs to produce a series of radio jingles in English, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin. These messages underscore the importance of following the directives by the government and NCDC to keep safe during these times. The messages which are targeted at women and girls also give information on what to do if one needs to report VAWG which has occurred to oneself or someone else, as well as encouraging men to participate equally in the burden of care at home. Traditionally, women in Nigeria are primarily seen as the caregivers who take on the burden of cooking, cleaning and caring for children. During this health crisis, as stress levels rise which children staying home and more strain on households, it is important to highlight more than ever that men are needed to take up more responsibility on the home front. The radio messages have begun airing on select radio stations across the six geo-political zones.

UN Women has recently launched the #HeForSheAtHome campaign. Spearheaded by UN Women in 2014, The HeForShe solidarity movement is the global campaign to engage men and boys to become change agents towards the achievement of gender equality. In Nigeria, the HeForShe campaign was officially launched on the 23rd of May 2017 by the Acting President, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, at the International Conference Center, Abuja. The launch was facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and supported by UN Women. The national launch paved the way for the launch of the campaign in Plateau, Gombe and Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Lagos states. Within the COVID-19 context, the #HeForSheAtHome reinforces the commitment of men and boys to adapt to the changing realities by stepping it up at home for gender equality by taking up more responsibility.

The implications of COVID-19 such as increased burdens of care on women and girls and increased levels of VAWG are further exacerbated by a lack of female representation leading the national response on COVID-19. UN Women has also mobilized elected female members of the National Assembly and members of the African Women’s Leaders Network, in sharing messages on preventative measures against COVID-19, VAWG and women at the forefront of the National response. Some of these messages are currently airing across the six geopolitical zones and on UN Women social media platforms.

In Bauchi and Benue states where UN Women is supporting the implementation of its Women, Peace and Security programme, gender concerns are being mainstreamed into the COVID-19 response. The weekly sponsored radio programmes on Women, Peace and Security are being broadcasted live on Globe FM in Bauchi and Radio Benue in Benue State, in partnership with International Alert and the State Ministries of Women Affairs. The radio interactive programmes have featured expert guest discussants who sensitize the public on the gender implications of COVID-19. Discussion themes include susceptibility/risk factors of women to COVID-19, coping with pregnancy and nursing infants during the COVID-19 crisis, level of preparedness of health care centres in identifying and responding to suspected cases of COVID-19, cross-border and inter-state transmission of COVID19 with implications for women, the role of security agencies and women in combating criminality, among other related peace and security issues in Nigeria. These on-air discussions have been complemented by the airing of several audio jingles on COVID-19 sensitization, produced by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs.

 

Written by
Author
Mercedes Alfa
Communications Analyst
UN Women
UN Women Communication Analyst, Mercedes Alfa