IWD 2021: Nigerian women speak on how they’re handling COVID-19 pandemic

The theme of the 2021 International Women’s Day (IWD) is : ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’ In line with this theme, some Nigerian women, in leadership circles, speak with KINGSLEY ALUMONA about their experiences Excerpts:

Dr Funmi Adewara, medical doctor and founder/CEO of Mobihealth International

IS it possible to achieve an equal future between men and women in Nigeria in this COVID-19 pandemic era?

Economic recession and poverty in Nigeria have  been increasing. Then came COVID-19, and with it, massive job losses—meaning, more women will be pushed into extreme poverty than men. Women have to cope with family pressures of looking after children that are out of school during the pandemic and doing other house chores. The mental health impact on women in these times is unimaginable. So, achieving an equal future now needs intense and deliberate efforts from everyone and all stakeholders. It’s very encouraging to see organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation continue to take the lead. This amplifies the call for leaders to put women at the centre of their post-pandemic strategies.

 

Do you think the pandemic affects the leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations of Nigerian women?

No, resilient. Like in many past crisis, COVID-19 has shown that women are disproportionally affected, often finding themselves at the forefront of fighting the pandemic, while playing little role in the responses to the disease. Women are resilient during these uncertain times, and this should call for the advancement of the gains and prioritisation of women rights during and post-pandemic. What we want is to see women leadership becoming a norm, not an exception.

 

Which kind of world do you envisage post-COVID-19 for Nigerian women in health, social, and economic leadership?

The post-COVID-19 world will be shaped by decisions made in the crucible of the fight against the virus. The front-line health professionals and workers most exposed to the infectious diseases are likely to be women: nurses, nurse aides, teachers, cleaners, etc. Drawing on their contributions to shape planning, response interventions and resourcing in health would be necessary for attaining sustainable outcomes.

 

Ifeoma Malo, lawyer and co-founder/CEO of Clean Technology Hub

Is it possible to achieve an equal future between men and women in Nigeria in this COVID-19 pandemic era?

Yes, it’s possible. But, it’s necessary to first understand the effects of COVID-19 on the achievement of gender equality in Nigeria. The McKinsey Global Institute reports that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s . This is primarily caused by two reasons. First, the pandemic has severely affected social sectors like hospitality and retail, which are women-dominated in Nigeria. Secondly, the pandemic placed more pressure on the unpaid caregiving for children and the elderly, a function mainly carried out by women. However, this shouldn’t cause us to forecast a bleak future; but should lead to creating timely and adequate interventions to get us back on track.

 

Do you think the pandemic affects the leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations of Nigerian women?

Yes, to a large degree. The most significant fallout of the pandemic in Nigeria is severe economic hardship, which women bear the largest burden. It is therefore, not surprising that women’s workplace productivity would suffer as a result. This significantly affects the leadership potential of women in a country where even the most educated, qualified and accomplished women are still routinely overlooked for leadership positions in favour of less qualified men.

 

Which kind of world do you envisage post-COVID-19 for Nigerian women in health, social, and economic leadership?

This pandemic provides an opportunity to review and re-energise our health sector. This is where the opportunity lies for women to be better positioned; to take advantage of the shifts that are occurring in the health, services, hospitality and education sectors in Nigeria. With more women re-skilling, up-skilling and getting more certifications in these industries, you’ll see the family and community units becoming stronger and more financially stable. So, I envisage a future where the socio-economic value of women empowerment and involvement in the labour force is appreciated.

 

Sharon Omotoso, PhD, coordinator of WORDOC, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan

Is it possible to achieve an equal future between men and women in Nigeria in this COVID-19 pandemic era?

The journey towards an equal future for men and women is a global agenda as seen in goal 5 (Gender Equality) and goal 10 (Reduced inequality) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While Nigeria took steps forward in the pursuit of gender equality, COVID-19 has regressed earlier applauded advances towards gender equality. This does not suggest that gender equality is impossible. It simply implies that additional commitment is required to weather the challenges that the pandemic has contributed to the drive for gender equality.

 

Do you think the pandemic affects the leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations of Nigerian women?

Absolutely! What’s largely described as shadow pandemic must be holistically understood to capture domestic, psychological, economic, social, and even religious violence. Women leadership is people-oriented. Leadership is not only political. Women in Nigeria have taken leadership mostly at the periphery of caregiving (domestic and occupational). Nigerian women across core leadership spaces are more often cut out by hostile sexism, while the few in leadership are trapped by benevolent sexism. With the low representation of women in governance, Nigerian women have suffered a major setback in their leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations.

 

Which kind of world do you envisage post-COVID-19 for Nigerian women in health, social, and economic leadership?

I envisage a post-COVID-19 world where Nigerian women will begin to channel energies towards speaking truth to power to achieve transparency and accountability in governance. Likewise, Nigerian women must improve in their technology-based inventions as coping mechanisms within the new normal. Finally, a post-COVID-19 Nigeria must be one that places an onus on women in research and development.

 

Chinemenma Umeseaka, Special Adviser to Abia State governor on Teen Matters

Is it possible to achieve an equal future between men and women in Nigeria in this COVID-19 pandemic era?

Yes. Every woman is equipped with the ability to be more in life. Women should get rid of entitlement mentality and start bringing value to the table. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela has shown us we can achieve an equal future, with or without the COVID-19 pandemic. So, It’s either you’re relevant, skillful, influential or you’re not. And, whoever has the solution to any of our numerous problems, such as the pandemic, climate change, security issues, etcetera, will be celebrated—whether man or woman.

 

Do you think the pandemic affects the leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations of Nigerian women?

I’m not one to be sentimental about which gender is getting what or more. The question is: What value is someone bringing? Are we, as women, showcasing our worth in our industries? We’ve seen some Nigerian women show us that we can break any potential barrier to get to the pinnacle of leadership. Let me mention two examples here. Mo Abudu of Ebonylife TV, and the new MD of FCMB bank, Mrs Yemisi Edun. Mo Abudu recently signed a partnership deal with Hollywood couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith film production company called Westbrook Studios. The pandemic can’t and shouldn’t affect our leadership potential and socio-economic aspirations. This is probably the best time to pursue our dreams and goals.

 

Which kind of world do you envisage post-COVID-19 for Nigerian women in health, social, and economic leadership?

I envisage a world where women are thinking of solutions, and are at the forefront of innovations and inventions. I also wish for a world where women are positioning their fellow women for higher and greater opportunities, where women are their biggest supporters and promoters of themselves. These, and many more, I envisage and believe will become our reality.

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