Rosemary Luka is a young mother of two children who is one of the numerous Nigerian women hit by the increased financial hardship that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a woman who only heard about how other people received support and palliatives from the government and other NGOs, but never benefited during and after the lockdown. She said she equally saw the lootings of COVID-19 palliatives going on across the country and even though these acts have been condemned by many, she expressed her wish to have also had access to her portion of the palliatives. According to her, she is hungry and just needs food regardless of how it may come. For many like Rosemary, the need to feed stands as interference in deciding to scramble for a share of the re-looted palliative.
In October 2020, women groups began to decry the low representation of women in the COVID-19 palliative distribution and also demanding more accountability and condemning corruption. According to Partners West Africa Nigeria, 87% of Nigerian women lost their jobs and source of income during the lockdown and 61% were unaware of provisions made by the government.
The Complex Role of Nigerian Woman
Nigerian women, like their counterparts in other developing countries, perform complex multiple roles as mothers, workers, managers of households, and providers for their home feeding and upkeep. They take care of their husbands, children, and members of their extended families. When the government of the day decided to support households with palliatives due to the economic impact of COVID-19, there were identified gaps in how much the needs of women were put into consideration in the planning process especially since it is expected that women would have a good knowledge of what her household needs to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
A woman’s financial state arguably has a greater direct impact on her children than any other member of the family. Florence is another mother of two children, who was hit by the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown and it almost pushed her to make a fatal decision concerning her unborn child. As at the heat of the lockdown, Florence was 5 months pregnant with a third child. Due to the loss of her livelihood, she and her children went on without food for two days with the unborn child in her belly. When she could not bear the burden anymore, she decided to take any drug that would help her to abort the child so that the child would not die of starvation in her womb. This is a Nigerian woman whose poverty had ripple effect on her children putting her life and that of her unborn child at risk.
Despite the government’s claim that it distributed palliatives to poor households, impact reports reveal a prevalence of food insecurity across the country, which has not improved since the lockdown. In the FCT many women with their children were reported having to skip meals. Elizabeth Ojeba, a mother of 3, narrates how she has had to put her children through compulsory fasting where they would eat once a day around 4 pm and go to bed on an empty stomach to resume the fast the following day. She said, sometimes, they go through this up to 4 days or up to one week at a stretch. Elizabeth sells homemade drinks in places like motor parks and mechanic workshops. The COVID-19 situation however made her sales drop drastically as most people refused to purchase such locally made drinks due to the fear of the spread of the virus via any form of liquid exchange. Elizabeth who is into the catering business, and who almost totally went out of business, said other forms of palliatives like free electricity supply from the government to save her extra cost and help her preserve her petty trade, would have made more sense, as palliative, to her.
Distribution Plan of COVID-19 Palliatives and The Community Realities
At the planning of distribution of palliatives, households are set as the target. However, in reporting those who go on without food, women and children are the ones counted and reported upon. The question then is why women don’t make up the target for distribution of these food items. The home where the woman gets supply of food, is a home where everyone, including the men, gets food.
As part of plans to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians due to the impact of the pandemic on livelihood and cost of living the Nigerian Government decided to focus on households as its distribution point. The focus was on poor Nigerian households. Despite this method and distribution, there were testimonies of mothers who could not feed their children due to the lack of food to eat. The harsh reality of how effective this method was, can be attested to by the number of people who eventually benefited from the exercise. In the cause of carrying out the distribution of palliative to households, some monitoring teams met that the situation planned for was not the reality on the ground with the Nigerian people and therefore raising questions on the method of distribution of food items to households.
According to Dr. Johia Gupar, The National Coordinator of Civil Society Emergency Intervention Group and the Founder at Pan African Young Women Development Initiative who spoke on Click Naija Online Radio women’s programme, ‘Women Realities’, some of the findings she made alongside her team during the distribution of palliative in the FCT as a monitoring group, were unexpected. When the teams went into the field, they found that many households had more than one family living within the same household. According to her in some cases, there were households housing up to 6 or 8 families in them. It was therefore a gross assumption on the part of the government that every household had one family living in it. There were also reports of women complaining that the palliatives given to their households were sold by their husbands.
This meant that more palliative had to be given to fewer households than planned and it would not be as far-reaching as planned. This brings into question, the claimed reach of the palliatives. If the palliatives were targeted at women, it probably would have sounded lopsided, but this would have likely yielded more results because, there is likely a woman in every family, especially where there are children. For polygamous homes, this would have been a better model as well because it means that every child including the husbands in such a household would get food since their mothers have food.
Palliatives vs Nutritional Supplementation
Nigeria remains one of the worst-hit by malnutrition in the Sub Saharan region, with children and women in their reproductive age most affected. The United Nations measurement of poverty is aimed at identifying the poor from a variety of perspectives: including the inability to meet the calorie requirements per day. The 2018 NBS Demographic Health Survey revealed that 37% of children under age are stunted, 17% severely stunted and 7% wasted. 22% are underweight and 7% are severely underweight.
One of the aims of the palliatives was to improve the uptake of food and nutritional supplementation. Dr. Johpia also said that many women would have preferred other items to meet the nutritional needs of their families other than the ones distributed. She said some women were in need of drug supplementation, and other food items apart from rice and noodles like beans. This should have made up for the nutritional balance needed for families and help prevent the already high level of malnutrition. According to a monitoring report by Connected Development who had their team on the ground to monitor the distribution of the palliatives in the FCT, for the distribution monitored, there were 12000 bags of 3kg rice and 12000 bags of condiments to be shared. The bag of condiments contained 3 small bags of Semo, 2kg beans, 3kg of garri, 10 sachets of tomato paste, one bag of salt and sugar each, 1 liter of oil (5 sachets). For the group monitored by the Civil Society Emergency Intervention Group, the main items distributed were bags of rice. During the looting or re-looting of the COVID-19 palliatives, which were initially hoarded, it was seen on social media, that the main item that was stuck up for distribution was rice and noodles. It can therefore be assumed that there was a general notion in the planning that the requirement of Nigerian households was rice.
Looking at the choice of items purchased to achieve food supplementation which should have made up for the nutritional value required by members of a household, there are big questions as to how much supplementation was achieved. Even for the tranch where other items were purchased, the question of balance of these items to have the required nutritional value according to world standards, calls for answers. In 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Nigeria is burdened by three key malnutrition indicators: anemia, overweight, and stunting. WHO further defined malnutrition as the deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. More often than not, the average Nigerian is experiencing both malnutrition and hunger. Situations like those of Rosemary and Elizabeth and their children are therefore potential springboards to increasing hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria.
Market Price Realities
In a society like Nigeria where certain chores like going to the market for shopping is generally seen as a woman’s responsibility, or a woman’s type of chore, the reality of the prices of household items is felt directly by the woman. In many cases, she has to sort that problem herself if there is an increase in the prices of foodstuff. Even in cases where the money is provided by her spouse for shopping, when there is a hike above the amount she has been given, she most likely will not go back home to ask for the difference in the market price. Neither will she go back home without purchasing those necessary items. The cost of any market difference falls directly on her. However, in many cases, she is the provider of the funds for shopping for her household and also the bearer of the increased cost.
In Nigeria, The Consumer Price Index for food increased by 1.18% from March 2020 to April 2020 caused by increases in prices of food items like yam, potatoes, and other tubers, fish, oils and fats, meat, bread, and cereals, fruits and vegetables. The average annual rate of change between April 2019 and April 2020 was 14.22%. In September 2020, the consumer index price of food in Nigeria stood at 382.7. Compared to September 2019, the CPI of food increased by roughly 17%. The consumer price index is the measure that examines the changes in the purchasing power of a currency and the changes in the price level of the market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households. Women are the main purchasers of these consumer goods. The movement of the consumer price index is the main measure for inflation rate and this puts women at the forefront of the direct impact of inflation especially in 2020.
The Nigerian government has carried out several social intervention programmes with some of them targeted specifically at women. Including conditional cash transfer, interest-free loans, and items to start up a business. However, there have been reports that many women with their spouses, who received items like sewing machines sell the items handed over to them. This brings to question the justification for the huge amounts the government is investing in these programmes and its plans to get value for money. Wanda Ebe of the Wanda Adu Foundation has worked with women for years and especially during the COVID-19 lockdown. She shares some stories of women’s experiences during the lockdown and speaks on the effectiveness of the financial support the government is providing for women. She suggests that industrial business hubs would serve the purpose of alleviating the poverty of women more than handing out conditional cash transfers to women or even buying items to give them.
Since 2018, more than half the world is moving to the middle class or richer. However, the story is different as Africa currently adds poor people with 70% of the world poor now living in Africa since 2019. For Africa to end poverty by 2030, more than one person would need to escape poverty every second. Nigeria stands second to India as the poverty capital of the world. Nigerian women are the most affected and are being marginalized in the decision-making process, employment, access to credit, and economic opportunities.
According to the World Bank, there was an estimated temporary 9% point increase in the national poverty headcount rate. The Nigeria SAM Multiplier Results show that the national poverty rate increased by 15% pointing to the fact that during the lockdown period 30 million more people started living below the poverty line. Some of whom may remain poor at the end of 2020, 70% of whom are women.
This story/research/investigation was supported by the US embassy via the ATUPA fellowship by Civic Hive.
Story: Ehizogie Ohiani
Cover Photo Credit: Connected Development