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Nigerian Women; the breadwinners dealing with the economic pinch of COVID-19

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By Emiene Odaudu-Erameh

Mrs Goodness Nwankwo stands beside her wares at the kubwa village market calling out to people passing by to by her fresh tomatoes .

She has her wares displayed on an old sack spread out on the floor. 2 piles of tomatoes selling for N200, a pile of scotch bonnet pepper going for N100 and 3 piles of okro she plans to sell for N100 each.

Mrs Nwankwo says she cannot display more as security agents have been harassing them; and her wares are not that much anyway. N6, 000 ; that is the worth of all she hopes to sell on this market day.

She has hidden the rest of the vegetables somewhere a little distance from where she displays her wares. This is because according to her, the action of the security agents has led to some of the vegetables she bought getting crushed. “I am just trying to see if I can raise anything to give my children food” she says.

The outbreak of Covid 19 in the country has pushed many Nigerians to explore several means of survival different from how they had been living before the outbreak.

This push to explore new ways of surviving which has been tagged the “new normal has seen more women stepping into the gap to become sole bread winners of their families.

Mrs Nwankwo who described a typical market day earlier at the peak of the pandemic in Nigeria while a lockdown was in place is a seamstress. She is one of such women and she says she was forced into the business of selling vegetables in order to feed her children as no one was making clothes anymore.

“I had to do this because my husband is a trader and his place of business is under total lockdown”, Nwankwo says. 

Women according to the 2015 Statistical Report of Men and Women in Nigeria by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, constitutes roughly half of Nigerian’s population and by extension half of the work force. As a group, the report says women do as much work as men if not more. However, the types of work as well as the condition under which women work and their access to opportunities for advancement differs from men. Women are, often, disadvantaged compared to men in access to employment opportunities and conditions of work; furthermore, many women forgo or curtail employment because of family responsibilities. The Covid 19 pandemic exacerbated these inequalities and made women more vulnerable.

Chizoba Elusi is another woman who the pandemic worsened her vulnerabilities. She said she was “forced” to “step up” to sole breadwinner role during the lockdown as her husband’s shop which is inside the market has been under lock and key since he does not sell foodstuffs. The onus then fell on her to provide for the family from the small tables where she retails foodstuff such as ogiri, okpehe, stockfish, crayfish and other soup ingredients. Her husband now assists her at her spot by the roadside. But the lockdown has had an adverse effect on her business. She says she and other traders have resorted to waking up very early and displaying their wares between 6am and 7am. This is to avoid security men disturbing them and enable people who need to stock up to do so. 

Elusi lamented the fact that women are now in the frontlines and have no means of cushioning the hardship they are forced to endure. According to Elusi, “women are suffering here for our children, they said we should remain inside with our children without any food”. The trader while noting that it is difficult to even get the foodstuff to sell lamented the hardships security agents subject them to. “Like yesterday” she said, “they came to where we are selling and sprayed teargas and it is affecting pregnant women, they are not supposed to put teargas where they are women”. 

She faulted the manner in which palliatives been distributed by FCT administration had been done noting that if it had been evenly shared, there would have been no need to struggle so much.

The manner in which palliatives was shared during the pandemic generated a lot of controversies with many Nigerians questioning the template that was used for sharing the palliatives. 

Federal government before the commencement of the sharing of the palliatives said it was meant for the most vulnerable in the society. What was not explained was the parameter to be used in determining who a vulnerable person was.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq whose ministry handled the distribution of the palliatives in a response to critics said “There’s hardly anyone in Nigeria who didn’t receive the Federal Government palliative care during the COVID-19 pandemic period”.

Agnes Agbonifo, disagrees with the minister as she says she has been the breadwinner for a long time ever since her husband lost his job, but the lockdown has made life more difficult for her. Mrs Agnonifo who says she used to produce and sell locally made dishwashing liquid says it is no longer marketable and so she has resorted to selling potato chips which is edible and more marketable now.

She said if the palliatives had been fairly distributed, she would have benefited and it would have assisted in easing some of the pressure the pandemic put her under,

Agbonifo said the lockdown made the cost of transportation to skyrocket and expose her to further difficulty. She says she had to trek from Dutse Alhaji where she resides to the Kubwa village market a distance of 7 kilometers on market days, because the motorcyles popularly called okada hiked their fare up to N500, from the N150 which used to be the normal fare.

She laments the difficulty she encounters in sourcing for the plantain which she fries for sale. “I have to risk my life to enter okada from Zuba to Dutse”, Mrs Agbonifo says. Zuba is about 49 kilometres from Dutse Alhaji. She says she has to resort to using okada because they are able to maneuver their way to avoid police check points which have been mounted to deter people from breaking the lockdown order.

Private school teachers were a group that suffered the negative effect of the pandemic because schools were completely under lock and key during the lockdown and classes moved online,

On 19 March 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education approved school closures as a response to the pandemic. 

Roseline Okemi is a single parent who used to teach in a private school, pre-covid 19. Schools were shut down abruptly following the outbreak in the country and Okemi said this affected her badly because she stopped receiving a salary. She then had to resort to selling pumpkin leaves also known as ugu. She said the income from the business is barely enough to meet their needs. “Like one head of ugu I gain like N450, is it enough? It is not enough” she said. “I am just doing it to sustain us”.

With the second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic hitting hard, Vulnerable women like Mrs Elusi and her colleagues are unanimous in calling on government to put the necessary measures in place so they are not subjected to unnecessary hardship.

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