Covid-19: Still on why women should occupy leadership positions

In a bid to give more visibility to women leadership, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) held a Webinar titled Women’s Leadership and the Response to Covid-19 in Nigeria recently. Similarly, the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) convened its maiden online colloquium to discuss the ‘demand for women’s leadership in socio-economic and political sectors of development in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. ENE OSANG in this report takes a second look at the initiatives.

The initiatives

It is no longer news that the plight of women has been further accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was as a result of this that both organisations on May 11 and 14, 2020, held online meetings demanding for more women leaders now and after the pandemic.

 Both webinars basically noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on several aspects of society by deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which have in turn amplified the impacts of the pandemic. 

According to the chief executive officer of the NWTF, Mufuliat Fijabi,  the lockdown imposed by the government as a measure of curtailing the virus has resulted in several difficulties for women. She said there’s, therefore, the need for all women and girls to be placed at the forefront of responses to the Covid-19. 

“There is an obvious gender gap in the national response of Nigeria to the global pandemic. Women are less visible in decision-making, yet, within health emergencies, they are conspicuous as health workers and care givers, and have continued to individually and collectively mobilise for action to end the pandemic in their various communities,” she said.

In her opening remarks, the founder of WLI, Ambassador Kema Chikwe, stressed the need for more women to be equipped with essential leadership skills to make positive impacts in the society. 

Experts’ views

An advocate for gender equity/youth inclusion in government, Rinsola Abiola, while fielding questions from the NWTF webinar moderator Fijabi, on whether having more women at leadership position at the federal and state government levels would have made a difference or not, said, “If women in both the formal and informal sectors are included in Covid-19 responses, Nigeria would have been able to attain higher level of enlightenment amongst the citizenry.”

Abiola emphasised that in any society made of different groups it is very important that everyone is represented in the policies or directives towards specific issues such as the coronavirus pandemic.

She noted that women are heavily represented in work force, they make up most of the population of caregivers of health care professionals and they are heavily concentrated in nursing, adding that globally, 70% of workers in the health care sector are made up of women.

“There is need for robust sensitisation on the disease. If we look at the market most people there are women and the rush on marked days makes them vulnerable as they are exposed to the virus. There are very little knowledge about the pandemic at the grassroots; most people who have correct information are those who have access to the internet or can watch TV and considering the poor access and many uneducated people, there is need for proper sensitisation of market women unions, and different groups so that more people, especially women, can get adequate information about Covid-19.

A lecturer in the Department of Gender Studies, University of Ibadan, Dr. Sharon Adetutu Omotoso, also stressed the importance of having women in leadership positions, adding that women leadership is inclusive.

She said, “Women leadership is horizontal in style usually female leadership is very inclusive it encourages participation and they share information. It is always people oriented, it is empathetic (women will usually take a holistic outlook of issues).

“In countries where women are leaders, the coronavirus is better managed and their citizens are being carried along in the efforts to curtail the pandemic. I believe when women are involved it would have taken a different turn entirely because there is no clear cut direction concerning how to curb the pandemic.” 

On her part, the programme manager at YIAGA Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, said it is always good to maintain balance in issues that concern everyone.

“Balance is always better because once you have a balance of representation you will have different aspects and opinions coming together to solve a particular issue and that way you will be able to address the needs of different sections and segments of the society.

“Once you have a balanced representation in decision making processes or bodies we have better solution or better approaches to address our challenges. For this pandemic, pro-active communication targeted at different sections of the society is key. Targeted information takes cares of the needs of the audience and provide rightful information that the audience.

“Conversations around gender sensitive issues are not balanced. Our socio- economic response to Covid-19 is not gender responsive. With Covid-19 we’ve seen that our health system is fragile and very vulnerable. When you don’t protect health care workers sufficiently you don’t inspire confidence within them to engage.

“Recently, the NCDC revealed a guideline for pregnant women and nursing mothers a lot of people don’t know about that because no proper way of communication, there is also increase in gender and sexual violence.’

In the same vein, the keynote speaker at the WLI webinar, Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, noted that the new normal is the women’s normal and so the reason more women should be in leadership, stressing the popular slogan ‘health is wealth’ is no longer a cliché. 

She said, “The pandemic has shown that Global Health is an essential for thriving economies. The New normal is the Woman’s normal, as such; women have to be part of the conversation given that they have the leadership qualities required for effective decision making during crisis period.

“Women should be in the fore front of palliative distribution in communities as they better understand the home networks in communities. Using women as entry points in communities will be beneficial to nations. Women birth and nurture leaders and they deserve to be leaders as well.”

Another panelist at the WLI webinar, who is the dean, Postgraduate Studies, at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Prof. Nnenna Oti, said there’s a sense of urgency in achieving gender equity in every community in Nigeria.

Oti is of the view that when women genuinely work together and network adequately they can together remove existing barriers, and, therefore, called on women to always vote for women during elections so as to have women representatives to speak for the generality of women.

According to her, “To have women in leadership women should work together, network, vote for women candidates to win elections, if not; who will speak for us.”

Also, the founder, HEIR Women Development, Anuli Ola-Olaniyi, said the role of young women in leadership and other decision making tables cannot be overemphasised.

“More efforts need to go into the mis-education of young Nigerians on the dynamics of leadership and the existing gender bias,” she said. 

How women can demonstrate leadership

Dr. Sharon pointed out that women have always demonstrated leadership in their roles as caregivers, teachers, nurturers, saying if these qualities can be leveraged in governance the society would be better for all.

“Policies are not balanced because representation is held against women. In care giving, women has been taking serious leadership not only in the health sector but other areas such as the emergency school teaching were mothers have to teach their children.

“In the course of the pandemic women are now taking up the responsibility of being bread winners owing to the fact that some men have lost their jobs or can’t go out to work.”

Mbamalu on her part called for the strengthening of women by engaging them at different levels of governance.

“Engage women in parliaments to step up and speak up on women issues, and policies should be gender sensitive. At the level of palliatives distribution in different states the government has its team working on that, but one of the things we need is the template for distribution to ensure it is inclusive bearing in mind that we have widows, people living with disabilities, etc.

“We need to have our female law makers at the state level to also become the voices of women so that when it comes to distribution their voices can be heard by calling for the template that is gender-sensitive.”

Take home

The NWTF webinar noted that a society made up of different groups like Nigeria needs to, as a matter of importance, include every group when important decisions are being made. 

“If women had been adequately included in Nigeria’s response to Covid-19 (involving market unions and different groups of women), we would have been able to attain a higher level of enlightenment in terms of getting across proper information about Covid-19 to women in the grassroots, and curtailing misinformation and disinformation. 

“Female leadership is usually very inclusive, people orientated, and empathetic. Women think about families. The inclusion of women in decision making processes holds the advantage of ensuring everyone is carried along.

“A balanced representation in decision making fosters diversification of ideas and will lead to better approaches and solutions to address our challenges. 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. provision of palliatives to vulnerable women). We need to strengthen our coordination as women, and utilise the strength in our numbers to ensure our spread and reach is wider.

“Women leadership bodies such as Women Affairs and Women in Parliament have to step up and speak up on women issues especially during conversations around budget review and new appropriations to ensure that decisions made are gender sensitive.

“Several women have now taken leadership in the homes; we have to ensure that gender discrimination does not become a pattern in our homes as well.

It is important to have a National template that is gender sensitive for distribution of palliatives, and when distributions are being made, they should not be focused on the head of the home alone. We have to consider female led households such as single female parents, in order to ensure that women are not excluded from the process.

“We need to strengthen our structures especially every sector that has to do with encouraging and empowering more women in leadership, and this will have to begin with leadership of women in politics. We need to rethink the structures about how we put people in power in order to ensure that we vote in credible women. 

“A government response strategy to gender based violence, and a joint task force with representation from both government and civil society angle for response coordination is an important measure for curtailing the gendered impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to elevate gender issues as priority especially in relation to violence.

“Gender inclusion should be integrated as a priority issue, and a key government response strategy in this period. We should also support women taking leadership during this period with or without opportunities to be part of government structures as well as keep pushing to be included in government decision making processes.

“Women leadership has to 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 we should also engage the policy makers.”

The WLI Colloquium reminded authorities and citizens in general the key role women have played in rising to action and restoring their communities during times of crisis history. 

It, therefore, resolved that all women that had played a part in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, particularly women frontline healthcare workers and the female political leaders in Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Taiwan to mention a few deserves to be celebrated.

It, however, urged women on the need to be resourceful, entrepreneurial and creative during and post Covid-19 pandemic, affirming that democracy without equal participation of women is flawed.

“There is the need to embed gender dimensions and gender experts within response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into the Covid-19 response teams. We must also recognise the need to create and support more platforms that build the capacity of younger women to be qualified to take up more leadership roles.  

“There is paucity of sex-disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse therefore we must protect essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services and prioritise services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by Covid-19.”

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