Covid-19: Why more women should be in leadership positions




The increasing cases of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) has raised the question on the competence of leaders across the world especially countries led by women appear to be taking the lead in effective management of the pandemic hence the need for more women in leadership positions. ENE OSANG writes

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) which debuted in Wuhan the capital of China has spread to many countries of the world including Africa while cure is yet to be found.

Reports from various countries show an asymmetric increase in deaths from infected cases with many more people testing positive, self isolating and quarantining as well as receiving treatment.

In Nigeria, latest reports from the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) showed an increase in the number of people who have tested positive including medical workers, with over 400 deaths recorded so far.

While the citizenry has blamed the poor handling of the pandemic in the country especially the delay in closing all borders to stop importation of the virus, others believes that if women were occupying more strategic leadership positions the outbreak in the country would have been better managed.

According to a Director at Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Idayat Hassan, the Coronavirus pandemic is like world war three; only it came as biological warfare. It has crippled the whole world and will never leave us the same again.

“This is an outbreak that happens once in a lifetime; it has changed the global culture, resulting in a shutdown of the global economy and politics.”

A Gender Expert and Member of the Women in Politics Forum (WiPF) Charity Anaja, described the pandemic as an unpleasant surprise that has put homes, businesses, industries and governments at a standstill, and also redefined the nation’s priorities as a people.

Similarly, the Deputy Director PRAWA Barrister OgechiOgu said the Pandemic is a huge challenge to humanity, describing it as “an existential threat which should challenge nations and individuals at every level to positive actions to save humanity.”

Ogu noted that the pandemic has thrown up a number of issues of human lapses, issues of failure of leadership at different levels of the home, organizations, tradition/religion and politics generally.

Adding that it has also thrown up opportunities for individuals, families, Communities and nations to go back to the drawing board and reassess ways of doing things and retrace their steps where there are obvious cases of failure.

Response rate

The importance of good leadership in any country cannot be overemphasized. Various countries have responded to the crises by creating awareness, providing support, and interventions to its citizens at various levels amongst other efforts.

Ogu while rating responses since the outbreak in Nigeria lauded the government in terms of making laws and regulations to keep in line with the health protocols, however, she said Nigeria failed in terms of social security.

“Rating of Nigeria’s response to the Pandemic should be based on different mechanisms put in place in terms of health, regulations, enlightenment, enforcement of laws, social security and the level of preparedness generally.

“I may not be competent to speak on details around the tests, drugs to be used and the health protocols generally but I do know that we missed it when Nigeria failed to lockdown airports and land boarders in good time, giving room for the importation of the virus.

“The cheapest approach to curbing the spread of the virus would have been making people stay at home through provision of palliatives to the people in terms of food and other basic needs and stopping the transportation of the virus.

“This has not been done as expected and persons are violating the Lockdown regulations in search of what to eat. As at May 11, 2020, about 9,000 persons had been prosecuted only in the FCT for flouting the COVID 19 Lockdown regulations.

“We have recorded quite a number of cases of health workers infected already and this does not speak well of our level of preparedness to curb the spread of the virus. There are complaints from health workers regarding their being made to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for themselves. These are persons on the frontline,” said Ogu.

Speaking furtehr she said, “As beautiful as our laws and regulations on lockdown are, implementation has been a huge issue as there are reports of compromise from Security agencies which makes it possible for persons to still engage in interstate travels jeopardizing the efforts of the government on this.

“There are also several reported cases of human rights abuse and even cases of extra-judicial killings. The federal government has done well in terms of initiating release of inmates from Custodial facilities and commendable also is the follow-up action of the states on this.

“We have issues around enlightenment and awareness creation as clarity of information on the Pandemic did not get down to the grassroots in good time. A lot of misinformation in the communities and this has affected the general response to the Pandemic by the people and negatively impacted the efforts to curb the Pandemic.

“I know also that there is likelihood of unemployment crisis but cannot go into details as I cannot professionally speak to the strategies the government say are in place to avoid this.”

According to her, “Gender perspective should really be accommodated in every aspect of our lives generally and in the case of COVID, it becomes highly imperative given the increased number of Gender Based Violence reported within the period.

“Violators, both in private and public spaces, had opportunity to unleash terror on their victims. Most of them let off their economic, social and physical frustrations on their partners who cannot enjoy the period of respite offered by opportunity of going to work every day.”

Govt not doing badly

Meanwhile, Anaja maintains that the attention the government has so far paid to the pandemic is quite commendable.

“I will rate Nigeria’s response to the virus at 7 on a scale of 1-10. The response of government and the people clearly reflects the divide of standards and quality of leadership,” she said.

While noting that gender perspective responses was very crucial, she explained that each gender has its peculiarities on how they respond and are affected by the pandemic.

Hassan, on her part observed that the Nigeria’s response was challenged by effective leadership to build confidence which was vital in the situation.

“President MuhammaduBuhari has made few appearances, delivering his first speech on Nigeria’s response more than one month after the country’s first recorded case. And the suspension of the Federal Executive Meetings, until recently has raised questions on the efficacy of the response.

“The challenge of federalism is also playing out between the national and the state government and poor communication continue to plague the response. The lockdown and ban on interstate travels have not been impactful,” she said.

Need for more women leaders

The long time illogical notion of women and politics not mixing may no longer hold water considering that countries such as Germany, New Zealand, Belgium, Taiwan, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland that have had commendable response to Covid-19 through proactive decision-making and preparedness in medical provisions are women-led.

According to the CDD Director, Female Head of States has effectively handled the pandemic compared to their male counterparts.

“Taiwan, the first country to defeat Covid-19 is led by a woman.  Finland, Norway, Iceland, New Zeeland and Germany, who have all responded well to the Covid-19 pandemic, are all led by women.  These women chose population over the economy; and today, life is almost normal in their countries.

“These women leaders were strategic, open, transparent, empathetic, and they had the trust of their citizens. It is a fact that women are more emotionally intelligent; women are as good at making decisive and tough calls.  Maybe if we had more female representation in the Presidential Task Force on COVID19, some tough decisions would have been made,” she noted.

“It is a fact of the matter, as an advocate for the rights of girls and women, I have heard excuses that: “Gender isn’t a priority right now,” men are now affected, yes, the records show that more men are infected with Covid-19.

“But girls and women experience outbreaks differently than boys and men. A gender lens highlights the specific risks and vulnerabilities girls and women face because of deep-rooted inequalities and traditional gender roles.

“And the facts such a perspective uncovers can save lives and ensure that nobody is left behind in our emergency responses. I hear leaders say: Maybe when things calm down; It’s not the right time; they maintain. If we are to pursue the most effective responses to Covid-19 or any health emergency this must change,” she stressed.

Women think, act in favour of generation unborn

On her part, Ogu explained that women being in leadership positions in the socio-economic and political sectors of development would be a huge plus for the country as they would bring to the table their practical experiences in managing the home and are in better position to think and act in favour of the welfare of their at children and generations unborn.

She, however, said that is not to say that men do not think also of their children but that women feel the effects of want in the family more than the men because they are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of everyone in the family.

“If we are honest enough to put into perspective the roles women play in the family. Really women that are opportune to have means of livelihood and maybe savings or capacity to borrow are able to cope with handling the needs of the family especially the children in terms of feeding and other necessities at this time more than the others.”

She further said Nigeria would have handled the pandemic better if more women are occupying leadership positions, as is seen in other women-led countries.

“My answer is a loud YES. There are several examples of countries that have done so well regarding management of the Pandemic and these are countries led by women. Examples are Taiwan and Germany. Women are often associated with prudent management of resources,” she said.

“Of course, remember Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh who saved us all from Ebola. She made the tough call to prevent Mr Sawyerr from infecting more people. We have female leaders such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Amina Mohammad, Oby Ezekwesili and the late Dora Akunyili amongst others,” said Idayat Hassan.

“We could have replicated Taiwan or Germany, if we had women in office, maybe our children will also be back in school by now. Am fascinated that Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Ms Solberg of Norway and  Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s prime ministers all gave press conferences to answer children’ question and allay their fears.”

Addressing Covid-19 as a whole of society approach, and all stakeholders are relevant, women are inclusive and can handle things better she stressed.

Anaja also said, “As much as I commend how Nigeria has handled the pandemic, more women in leadership would have factored in households, marginalised groups, the aged and more wholistic and people oriented responses in containment, awareness creation, prevention protocols, and enforcement of compliance to the precautionary measures put in place.

“Because of the effects of the pandemic on women as Frontline responders, care givers, homemakers it is effecting on their livelihoods and how they are expected to multitask which places them on the top risk chart of getting infected. There is need for women’s input to reflect these peculiarities so that they are better responded to and their needs adequately factored into plans and policies,” she added.

Lessons

Hassan noted the poor commitment to gender equality in Nigeria even with many Nigerian women doing great things home and abroad, she called for the immediate passage of the affirmative action law.

“It is time to pass an affirmative action law to grant more access to women in politics; it is overdue to have women sit to make the tough decision, whether in the economy, health and defence.

On the global scene, Amina Mohammad at the UN is making those tough decisions to save the world, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is sitting on the table to make a to save Africa and the world either as WHO Ambassador on Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

Many of our women are in the world and here in Nigeria doing great things, Life Bank and Naija Flying doctor promoters are all women contributing to the Covid-19 response.

The gender expert also stressed that the place of women is crucial in politics, conflict resolution, management and response to natural and manmade disasters, recovery parenting and multi tasking, the stress that comes with it and so on.

“Women bear the brunt of epidemics and so they should also have their voices loud and consistent on issues where they are affected. Women inclusion is not a favour but a necessity, as major stakeholders in all that affects the society,” Hassan added.

Ogu, on her part expressed mixed feelings stating, “I don’t know whether I should say Nigeria has learned lessons around the issue of giving equal opportunities to both men and women or not. Nor can I say lessons have been learned around non-discrimination against women.”

She noted efforts to impress on the people of an attempt at inclusiveness for women, however, stating that the reality was that Nigeria was yet to show sincerity in terms of gender equality.

“This applies especially to opportunities in politics and core leadership positions. These are platforms that enable women come to the decision tables where discussions that affect their lives are held.

“Women are still missing here, the National Assembly, State Assemblies and the executive positions at the states and Local Government Areas, all the places that important decisions that affect women are taken, they are not well represented.

“My message to Nigeria on this is that there is no development for any nation that does not carry both genders along in important decision making of the country. A bird can never soar high in the sky with one wing.”

Women representation

Anaja maintained that on the basis of space, roles and function, women are not doing well stating, “our symbolic representation keeps dwindling in number, our roles are not clearly defined and we are not empowered to function and reach out to our own.

“The change I desire is not from the government alone, but from political parties, and from women themselves… Covid-19 came as an unpleasant surprise and an unwelcome visitor and brought about unexpected changes.

“We must redefine our priorities, we must empower our women, and there is need for adjustment of our habits and vanities.

“At this point what we desire is to stay alive and healthy, post COVID19 and that should remain a priority for ourselves and households and we need to demand for policies that are responsive to women’s needs on WASH and priority concerns of households.”

Ogu pointed out that a lot of gender issues arose with the Pandemic adding that luckily these were tracked by specialists in the area.

“Interestingly, individuals and organisations found it worthwhile to deal with issues from gender perspectives at this period. That shows a lot of commitment and awareness around gender issues being created.

“The sensitisation and interventions are a huge plus. It is a pointer to greater things to come. Going forward I believe conscious efforts would be made to bring gender perspective to any kind of response that may be put in place at every level of government,” she said.

“I think it is truly an opportunity to work for the change we deserve. It is now to amend the Constitution,” Idayat Hassan said.

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