Covid-19 has tripled disabled women, girls’ challenges – Auta

Lois Auta is the founder and chief executive officer of Cedar Seed Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that advocates and promotes the rights of disabled women and girls. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she canvasses inclusivity in Covid-19 responses.

How would you describe the coronavirus outbreak?

The coronavirus pandemic is devastating, sad and heart-breaking. It has affected our health and economic lives in many negative ways. We hope to see the end of this pandemic before it will cripple the world.

 How has the pandemic impacted on the lives of the disabled, especially women and girls?

Covid-19 has affected women and girls with disabilities in so many destructive situations. Without or before Covid-19 we were undergoing discrimination, stigmatisation, under-representation and exclusion in many sectors of public and private organisations. With the pandemic it has added our challenges and difficulties in triple ways; first as a woman, secondly as a woman with disability and lastly from the society, laws and policies that are unfavourable to women and girls with disabilities. Some of us cannot independently perform their daily tasks (eating, bathing, dressing and moving from point A to point B without the assistance of a caregiver or family member.

Women with disabilities are the poorest of the poor, this means that they don’t have access to health care facilities, they cannot afford hospital services and this makes them much more prone and vulnerable to the pandemic. With the lockdown in many cities of the world, sexual gender based violence has increased in the lives of women and girls with disabilities due to their vulnerability and disability. Most of our members in the disability community are not employed, in this situation they remain helpless, hungry, cashless and in need of basic needs due to poverty.

So, how did people living with disability cope during the 5-week lockdown?

The lockdown was an added disability on the rights of women and girls with disabilities because those that work daily before the lockdown to support their needs were asked to stop and stay at home. It was not funny at all; I knew how many calls and messages I received from some of them requesting for support, it was a double jeopardy on women and girls with disabilities. They could not cater for their needs due to the lockdown order; this has resulted to lack, poverty and hunger in the disability community.

The lockdown order has been partially relaxed, would you say it is the best way to go in this situation?

Yes, Nigeria is a developing country we need to strategise and keep our GDP growing not falling, with the lockdown our economy will be drastically affected but with the lifting of the lockdown, this will improve the lives of Nigerians and our economy will be able to thrive.

How would you rate govt’s intervention to the plight of Nigerians in general since Covid-19 berthed?

The government has tried by coming up with a brilliant idea of supporting Nigerians with cash transfers and palliatives distribution, but the implementation is the big issue here, it is so sad that many Nigerians did not benefit from government interventions.

Do you mean the disabled women were not captured on the govt’s palliatives; if that’s the case what about the women affairs ministry? Has it assisted PWDs during this period?

Women with disabilities benefited from the distribution of palliatives in Lagos, Ekiti, other states and FCT in hundreds and thousands. Yeah, the Honorable Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen (Mama Inclusive), has done very well in ensuring that women and girls with disabilities get palliatives from the federal government. She facilitated our meeting with her colleagues, Honourable Minister of Humanitarian and Honourable Minister for State, FCT. Through her connections we were able to secure 3, 000 palliatives from FCT Minister for State, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu, for persons with disabilities in the FCT.

Last week, Network of Disabled Women benefited from the palliatives, Her Excellency, Pauline Tallen, shared for women groups through the support of Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari organisation, Future Assured. We are very grateful to these great and compassionate women. God bless them more.

The lockdown order has been partially lifted; what is the way forward for women with disabilities?

Lifting the lockdown is a good step for our economy but health wise we need to be more proactive and sensitive in handling this situation of Covid-19. Women with disabilities need to keep staying at home until the virus has gone completely out of Nigeria. Employers of staff with disabilities should permit them to stay at home because they are at higher risks of contracting the disease. The way forward for women with disabilities is to keep a hygienic mind and environment, work from home, sanitize their mobility aids and remain focus until we are victorious of Covid-19.

What are your expectations from govt concerning the needs of disabled women at this time?

People with disabilities are highly impacted by coronavirus due to attitudinal, social and institutional barriers that are reproduced in Covid-19 reactions. I expect governments and institutions to prioritise the rights of persons with disabilities in this trying time. They should make all isolation centres accessible for persons with disabilities. NCDC report should capture number of persons with disabilities affected by the pandemic too. We want to see inclusivity in all government responses on Covid-19.

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