Before the pandemic, we recognized that women got the shorter end of the stick and that bridging the gender gap was a global priority. Now, a year into a pandemic, our end of the stick has gotten even shorter. Yes, everyone, regardless of their gender, is presumably affected by the corona virus pandemic but for women, the situation is twice as bad. Women are losing their jobs, suffering increased sexual violence and dealing with more mental stress than men as a result of the pandemic. Even among women, the impact of the pandemic is still unevenly distributed with some groups of women being more affected than others.
CNN reports that the US economy lost 140,000 jobs in December and all of them were held by women – majority of which were black and Latina women. Men on the other hand, lost jobs but in total gained 16,000 more jobs. While the report from the United States is not an accurate representation of the global status, it is still problematic. There are no similar reports on Nigeria but it is not far fetched to assume that Nigerian women too, suffered unemployment as a result of the pandemic. The important question to ask is not why didn’t men lose their jobs? rather, why did so many women lose their jobs?
Studies from Boston Consulting Group and Northwestern University reveal that women take on more responsibilities at home. This comes as a surprise to no one – the average Nigerian girl is raised to be a ‘homemaker’. With lockdown restrictions and the introduction of virtual learning for school children, married women were burdened with even more responsibilities at home. According to Business Insider Africa, 2 million married women lost their jobs in July 2020, due to back-to-school reasons. These married women had to choose between having employment and taking care of their kids and they chose the latter. They no longer had the option of dropping off their kids at the daycare or school and had to handle the responsibilities of home schooling and 24/7 childcare that came with the lockdown. This is just another example of how gender roles continue to have a bigger impact than we like to admit; the personal is indeed political.
Domestic violence, in the past 12 months, has been so high that the United Nations described it as a ‘shadow pandemic’. Before corona virus, Nigeria already had a domestic violence crisis as 30% of women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced sexual abuse. However, following the lockdown in March 2020, the international Growth Centre reported a 149% increase in domestic violence across 23 states in Nigeria. As more women were forced to stay at home due to the lockdown, they became more vulnerable to abuse from their partners and the strict movement made it difficult for survivors to leave or get help. Also, court proceedings have been delayed and postponed during the pandemic leaving more abusers on the street. Domestic violence is not a stand alone problem for women as it often interacts with other problems like poverty. As more women are becoming unemployed and financially insecure, it makes it difficult for them to escape their abusers.
We saw first hand, many instances of domestic violence on Nigerian women during this pandemic. Talatu Daniel, a pregnant woman was murdered in Plateau State. Uwa Omozuwa, a first year University student was raped and murdered in a church where she had gone to study. Tina Ezekwe was murdered by a drunken police officer. Halimat Sodiq was tortured and murdered by her boss and 3 other women. Joy Eze was shot in the mouth by her police boyfriend and is still bedridden after multiple surgeries. An 18 year old unnamed girl died by suicide after she was gang raped by 3 men in Bayelsa state. Being a woman has never been safe, but being a woman in a pandemic has been a nightmare with no end in sight.
The mental health of women during this pandemic has not been spared and frankly, it is as unsurprising as daylight. A study conducted by CARE, a non profit international aid organization, across 38 countries, revealed that while everyone experienced anxiety and overall emotional fatigue during this pandemic, women are almost 3 times (27%) as likely as men(10%) to suffer mental health issues like anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite. Looking at the economic blow women have experienced coupled with the increased home labour and domestic violence, it is unsurprising that our mental health has been negatively affected more than men in this pandemic.
With a vaccine already in distribution, it appears that this might be the beginning of the end. While that is great, we must be sensitive to an increase in the gender gap that this pandemic has caused. Our plans for recovery of the pandemic must include women – we must be intentional about providing solutions to the many problems that women face, which has only been worsened, as a result of the pandemic. Until we start to center women in our discussions and prioritize women-focused solutions, then we would not have begun to repair the damages of the pandemic.