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Can a Gender-Based Response Help To Combat The Spread Of COVID - 19 In Nigeria?

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Nigeria’ updates on the spread of COVID - 19 confirmed 30 cases between 27th February and 23ed March 2020 (Even though, 2 were declared as fully recovered now).  While 24 of these cases occurred in Lagos state, 4 were in Abuja, 1 in Ekiti state and 1 in Oyo state. The cases included 1 Italian, 2 Americans, 1 Briton and 26 Nigerians; a majority of whom returned from the USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, while just about two were linked to community spread.

Meanwhile, in reporting the cases, no mention or consideration was given to the sex or gender of cases, save for a 30-year-old female returnee from the UK who self-quarantined, and another female linked to an index case from Britain, as well as a mother and a six- week old infant, whose sex remains unknown. Incidentally, while so much information has been shared about the origin and spread of COVID - 19 Pandemic, not so much information is communicated on how the disease affects men and women differently. Regular updates on disease spread are important, but as it is, across the world and in Nigeria, these updates are silent on the gender dimension of the pandemic, and this is dangerous.

Judging by evidential reports on the clinical and economic consequences of the disease, measuring how it impacts men and women differently would not be out of place. Ultimately, this decision would inform the quality and extent of emergency response at this very chaotic time, particularly, for a country with weak public service and infrastructures.

Generally, it can be assumed that more men than women are affected by the virus due to differences in lifestyle choices and social pattern and economic endeavours but as disease carriers, women are more likely to spread the virus due to their role as caregivers. For instance, because of their dependents and contacts with their mothers, children are more likely to test positive where mothers are affected as in the case of the six weeks baby listed by Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control.

 Till date, a gender-neutral approach to reporting COVID-19 cases and susceptibility, not minding the gender dimension to vulnerability and mortality. For instance, as service providers, nursing as a female-dominated profession comes to mind readily.  Statistics from Nursing Nigeria World suggest a female-male ratio of 5:2. As care providers, they are more likely to carry and share the burden of the diseases at home where they are caregivers to family members who are forced to socially distance themselves due to the shutdown of educational institutions on account of containing and mitigating the speed of COVID-19. This will further increase the burden of unpaid domestic and care work on women significantly.

The Aviation and hospitality sectors offer large employment opportunities to women at various levels but also have been identified as highrisk prone to COVID-19. To address the effect of the virus on the female workforce means to deal with the attendant challenges of the outbreak in a wholesome manner. Therefore, underlying social differences between men and women should feed into the government response in a manner that addresses their specific needs. In my estimation, in order to impact the preparedness against the spread of COVID – 19, the government should commit to capturing gender relevance data to serve the planning purpose that will enable key agencies to offer gender-responsive directives to the citizens. All hands must be on deck to stop this virus from deepening existing inequality gaps in public service and infrastructure.

 Aside from the negative clinical impact of the virus, the pandemic also tows the economy in a grievous manner. There would be loss of income, particularly, for poor households headed by women. As a response to the loss of economic opportunities, Nigeria like governments across the world is providing economic relief to the tune of N1trillion for businesses. On the surface, this broad-based stimulus to enhance economic stability is commendable but a gender-sensitive economic package should be inclusive and designed to capture and reward the participation and contributions of women-owned businesses to the nation’s economy. The intervention should be a programme to deliberately accommodate sectors, largely operated by women that would be impacted negatively by the outbreak.

  It is common knowledge that women more than men have lesser access to productive assets, are more likely to live in poorer housing conditions, and more likely to be poorer as heads of households, particularly, as widows, half-widows or single parents. A combination of these factors has grave food insecurity consequence should prolonged community lockdown be activated. The implication of this is adequate social protection plan for this category of households that are mostly headed by women. It also makes good sense to consider the impact of poor housing conditions on self-isolation, where the ratio of occupants to a room is violated. Similarly, evidence from other countries suggests routine medical care and elective surgical procedures may suffer on account of pressure on infrastructure and personnel, it is on this basis that deliberate care is required to ensure routine child immunization plans are not abandoned on the account of COVID-19 emergencies. With a record high maternal-child mortality, Nigeria cannot afford to sacrifice the health of pregnant women and children on the altar of coronavirus management. Response to the virus must consider the peculiarities of Nigeria’s gender dimension. The government must find alternatives that won’t put primary health care in jeopardy especially for poor users.  

 While the world is inundated with data about affected demographics in terms of an elderly and youthful population, and the geographical scope such as the source of disease and the spread along border lines, little or nothing has outlined the impact of this deadly disease from gender perspectives. Therefore, for Nigeria to prepare adequately to overcome the scourge of this virus on its health system and economy, it must review critically how the disease affects men and women differently in the country, bearing in mind the socio-economic peculiarities of its environment.


Foluke Ademokun

Executive Coordinator

Ajoke Ayisat Afolabi Foundation

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