Women have shown resilience in handling COVID-19 pandemic —Ifeoma Malo, lawyer and co-founder of Clean Technology Hub
Ifeoma Malo is a lawyer, policy prodder, social entrepreneur, and climate change advocate. She is the co-founder of Clean Technology Hub, and also the current Campaign Director of Power for All (Nigeria). In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about how the COVID-19 pandemic is widening gender inequality and affecting the socio-economic and leadership potential of Nigeria women, among other issues.
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 jobs, and that women have accounted for 54 per cent of overall job losses despite making up only 39 per cent of global employment.
This is primarily caused by two reasons: first, the pandemic has severely affected social sectors like hospitality and retail, which are women-dominated in developing countries like Nigeria. Secondly, the pandemic placed more pressure on the unpaid labour sector of caregiving to children and the elderly, which is also women-dominated. Due to widespread social perception of girls and women in many developing countries like Nigeria, it’s far more likely that girls are withdrawn from school than boys in this pandemic era.
The existing gender dynamic in Nigeria has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is hampering the pursuit of a gender equal future. However, this shouldn’t cause us to forecast a bleak future; but should lead to creating timely and adequate interventions by the government 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—besides the loss of human life—is severe economic hardships, which women are bearing the largest burden. This means that women have to take on the shift of homemakers, support their children’s learning online and also remain productive via virtual work. It’s, therefore, not surprising that women’s workplace productivity would suffer as a result. Many women across the country, particularly the food vendors and marketplace entrepreneurs are hit the hardest.
Like the social sectors, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector is predominantly run by women. The knock-on effect of this is that many women who were well on their way to financial independence and prosperity were forced to become (more) reliant on their husbands, either to keep their business afloat or just to survive.
These significantly affect 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.
How would you rate the work/performance of Nigerian women in handling the pandemic compared to their male counterpart?
The existence of gender roles and expectations in the Nigerian society often puts the burden on men to provide for their wives and children, particularly in communities where women are discouraged from engaging in gainful employment.
Nevertheless, just as there are risks, there are opportunities, and Nigerian women have shown ample resilience and innovativeness to emerge stronger, and to seek creative ways to earn money and satisfy new demand that has arisen due to the pandemic. Nigerian women have never stopped shouldering the burdens, both at home and at their place of work/business, whilst looking for ways to strive and survive through and beyond the crisis.
Which kind of world do you envisage post-COVID-19 for Nigerian women in health, social, and economic leadership?
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underbelly of our dreadful healthcare system, which is now driven by a commercialisation that makes it impossible for most persons—except the truly wealthy—to obtain basic healthcare services. Despite this, we see opportunities for women who make up the bulk of the health services sector. This pandemic provides an opportunity to review and re-energise our health sector. This is where the opportunity lies for women to be more positioned, to take advantage of the shifts that are occurring in the health, the services and hospitality and education sectors in Nigeria.
Education is the most powerful tool in shifting perspectives and changing the general perception of women in our society. With more women re-skilling, up-skilling and getting more certifications in these industries, you’ll see the family and community units become stronger and more financially stable.
The silver lining is that this creates several avenues for women to have a greater presence in the workforce—including in positions of leadership. So, the future I envisage is a future of opportunity. A future where we prioritise the general welfare of all, instead of focusing on irrelevant and outdated things like gender, and what women should and shouldn’t be given the opportunities to do. A future where the socio-economic value of women empowerment and involvement in the labour force is appreciated.
The Federal Government must act to ensure that Nigeria emerges from the pandemic in a position to thrive, whether it’s through reducing the unemployment rate, attracting foreign direct investments into the country, etc.; and it’s trite to recognise the important role that women have to play in all of this.
The federal government has blamed some of its recent policies on the pandemic, like hike in electricity tariff and that of fuel. As an expert in the energy sector, what would you have done differently in these national matters?
The past year has been incredibly challenging for Nigerians, with the pandemic worsening most of our living standards. The government’s decision to drastically increase fuel and electricity prices at such an uncertain and, quite frankly, frightening time—especially in the backdrop of the pre-existing poverty and unemployment levels—was ill-advised. What I would’ve done differently would’ve been to reduce the prices of fuel and electricity tariffs instead of increasing them. Reducing the costs of necessities would’ve made it easier on people and encouraged them to spend instead of save, which would’ve had a positive multiplier effect on the economy. Increasing the prices of fuel and electricity in the middle of a global crisis was very ill-timed and callous on the part of the Nigerian government, and only caused the economy to shrink further.
On a personal note, how is the pandemic affecting your work at Clean Technology Hub? And, how are you improvising to meet the needs of your clients?
The biggest impact of the pandemic on Clean Technology Hub was the effect of the enforced lockdown. This prevented us from working at our office and from travelling to physically execute some of our planned projects—in Abuja and across Nigeria—as we intended. Consequently, we had to find ways to deliver our projects and meet the needs of our clients while adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. We did this by working from home (WFH) and, when the lockdown was lifted, subsequently staggering our schedule between WFH and working at the office to promote social distancing, and ensuring that not everyone came to work on the same day. We also relied on platforms like Zoom, Google Teams, and social media to interact with clients, partners, potential donor partners and the general public.
Additionally, we expanded our existing Volunteers Network (CVN) by increasing the over 300 volunteers we already had. We took advantage of the lockdown to increase our network of brilliant volunteers to enable us to execute some projects where we couldn’t visit.
There has been a call in women corporate circle for women to support or empower other women in business and leadership. Do you have any interest in this call, and how do you empower women in this regard?
Yes, I’m a strong proponent of supporting women in business and leadership. One of our pillars at Clean Technology Hub is gender equality and representation in the energy sector—whether it’s through helping women power their businesses, through clean energy, or by increasing the number of skilled female faces in male spaces. This is a reflection of our values and philosophy, which includes investing in women and girls and ensuring that they maximise their potential. My goal as a leader in my field is first, assuring that opportunities for women exist, and then actively teaching them to seize these opportunities. I also actively mentor women on navigating these opportunities successfully. A lot of our projects at the hub involve women empowerment as a core principle, and we constantly seek to ensure that women benefit greatly from the work we do.
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