Women, girls more vulnerable to Covid-19 – Ugbah

Irene Ugbah, a girl-child advocate, is the founder, Crestville Development Foundation. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she urges greater attention to the safety of the girl-child, even as she calls for a more inclusive presidential task force on Covid-19.

You have stressed the safety of the girl-child, especially with the outbreak of coronavirus in Nigeria; why the girl-child and not children in general since they are all affected?

Well, I am advocating for the girl-child because she is more vulnerable than the boy-child. If as a result of this lockdown a girl-child gets pregnant, she would be the one to drop out of school, put a hold on her dream, etc, while the boy who got her pregnant carries on as if nothing happened.

How would you assess the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria? Do you think the government is handling the issue adequately, especially the lockdown order?

Diseases affect everyone, but in different ways. For the women, the lockdown due to the coronavirus has increased her unpaid care work and for some women exposed them to domestic violence as they are forced to live with their abusive partners.

The government, I think, must have consulted with experts before taking the decision to lockdown. Where I have issues is in the area of safety of women/girls in the homes. While we think home is the safest place to be, we also know that home isn’t safe for some people. I expect like the governments in advanced nations have done during this lockdown of having dedicated domestic violence response team and lines for this.

Your advocacy stresses the effect of Covid-19 on girl-child education. Would you rather schools be opened? What exactly do you mean?

Health and safety come before education. Be that as it may, learning must continue irrespective of the location. So, online classes, TV, radio and other platforms are being used to engage the children.

My opinion is that school should resume when it is safe for children to go out. As regards the girl child my take is that Government should work with community based organizations (CBO’s) working in underserved areas which we already know that girls in such areas are prone being taken advantage of.

Because this CBO’s live and work in those communities they would form part of the Government palliative team. Their responsibility will be enlightening parents, guardians on ways to protect the girl child and discourage child bride. They will also give talk on sexual health and contraceptives.

In addition, jingles in local languages should be created and aired on televisions discouraging gender- based violence, early child marriages, and protection of our girls.

Women are worried that they are usually not included at decision making tables (presidential task force and other committee’s) of the Covid-19 pandemic; do you think including women would make any difference considering that the virus knows no gender?

It would be wrong to say women are not on the presidential task force, the minister of humanitarian affairs is on that task force and a few others. However, it is not enough; I didn’t see the minister of women affairs on that task force. I also think it’s time government utilised the labour forces from the organised private sector and the CSOs. The presidential task force should include the above I mentioned especially women to bring diversity experience and expertise in the team.

It has been argued that more women are likely to be exposed to the virus; do you think more girls are more danger to the virus than boys. What are the indications?

My point of argument about more women being exposed to the virus is because women are mostly the ones who go out during this lockdown. It’s the woman that goes to the market on the days the markets are opened. Most times it is the women that go to the pharmacies to buy drugs, etc. We have more women as nurses, cleaners in the hospital. You and I know that the more you go out the more you expose yourself to the chances of catching the virus.

What can be done to mitigate the impact of Covid -19 on children, especially the girl-child?

As government shares money to the vulnerable as we have read and seen in the media, there should be a conditional attachment for parents with school aged daughters. A girl child is not a palliative to poverty.

Continuous awareness in local languages should be done so, that education of the girl child must continue after the Covid-19.

Parents should have discussions about online etiquette with their daughters and sons too. Let them avoid chat rooms; do not disclose their identity to online strangers; do not agree to meet up physically with online strangers.

Collaborative efforts/joint campaigns

 The Federal Ministry of Health and National center for Disease Control (NCDC) are at the fore front of disseminating information about the Covid-19, I would rather suggest a robust campaign among  the Ministry of women affairs , Federal ministry of Education, Federal ministry of Health, NCDC, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and, of course, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) churning out campaigns on Covid-19,education continuity ,contraceptives use, parents alertness during this period, etc.

Jingles in local languages

The collaborative campaigns should be done in Pidgin English, and local languages to be aired on local stations.

Food relief centres

Almost every state has set up food relief centres where low income families go to pick food items. Such centers should have a desk solely dedicated to sharing leaflets pertaining the collaborative campaign or sensitisation.

Parents must take parenting seriously during after Covid-19

Parents should also ensure that abusers are not within their spaces. Women and women led civil society organisations (CSOs) should be used for post Covid-19 planning and implementation. Women know where it hurts them the most.

Having more women in the plans for post Covid-19 will see to it that the girl child education isn’t truncated and mothers are empowered in their business so that children can be adequately taken care of. Post-Covid-19 economy looks gloomy for Nigeria and of course the rest of the World.

As gloomy as the economy may look it should not affect education budget. Already Nigeria has one of the lowest education budgets in the World considering our population.

 The Education for All (EFA) recommends between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of a country’s budget should be allocated to education. Nigeria has always hovered between seven and nine per cent.  Reducing the budget would mean sending a death sentence to the girl child education.  The reason being that if the budget doesn’t cover publics schools, especially in the rural areas, parents will be forced to send their children to private school already with loss in most family income they may have to choose between the boy-child and girl-child who to send to school. Nigeria being a patriarchal society the answer is obvious.

Government should rather look for grants and low interest loans to fund the education sector.

 It is hoped that with these few suggestions the impact of Covid-19 will be less on the girl-child.

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