By Constance Meju
Lovender Elekwahi, killed by male police officer
More than at any other time in life at least in the last century, women are facing multiple stresses trying to cope with the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic otherwise known as COVID-19 which has affected almost 3million people and killed almost one million and is still claiming.
Following the lockdown declared with various levels of strictness across the country, women have been battling to put food on the table with markets and shops shutdown, offices closed and children at home demanding attention and more food than usual.
A worried mother from Oshogbo in Osun State told National Point,“We have just eaten the last amala (yam flour) in the house. Most of yesterday we drank garri. I have no more money in the house. I can’t tell what we will eat tomorrow.
“They (government) asked us to stay in the house but they are not thinking of what we will eat. Imagine, I stood for two days at Oshogbo Grammar School 11 for the government food, only to get one cup of black rice for myself and one cup for my son who went with me and do you know, we are six at home.Does it mean this government does not know what it takes to feed or they just don’t care?”
The government attempt to share palliatives to cushion the effect of the lockdown has been disastrous from federal to state level enriching the few in office while families groan with hunger and mothers cannot wait and watch their children die of hunger.
A Bayelsa State woman was captured on video screaming, “Open the road ee. We won die for hunger oo; garri no dey.Government open the door.” That was in the first week of the lockdown. Things are a little better as some states have set up food banks, special markets respecting social distancing but markets are still majorly closed and money is not coming in with citizens locked in thereby unable to make their usual daily transactions from which they feed.
A market trader in Diobu, Port Harcourt who used the be the one neighbours ran to in times of difficult is now being supported by neighbours as her business is on hold.
In Rivers State, the battle to keep the markets and shops closed has been a battle between the traders and government resulting in a series of decrees of total lockdown on areas identified as non-complying.
Some markets were alleged to be operating in unusual periods to beat the law in the search by women to feed their hungry families. Some operated between 2am and 4am, others from 4am to 6am. The government task force resumes at 7am. Ordinarily, those are awkward and dangerous times for women to move around in the city but when hunger knocks, who cares about the danger outside?
Healthcare worker brutalized
A mother of six in Bayelsa was held recently for stealing plantain from another’s farm.She told those who went to interrogate her after that she found herself helpless. She was a helping hand for farmers before the lockdown and with no job to do, hunger became her dictator.
A mother of three, Mrs Rose Osemogho residing in Rivers State put it thus, “Am a woman, I can’t just sit and watch my family go hungry. I go to the early morning market to buy, then resell. From there I get money to buy other things I need sold around me and food for my family.
“It is a dangerous time to be moving around but critical times demand critical measures. Women have to be creative to survive and that is what we are doing.”
Some waiting for the day to get brighter must have fallen into the hands of the task force members.
The Rivers State government in hot pursuit of the law breakers in a well-intended desire to keep people safe from COVID-19 which, has already affected six persons-two dead, two treated and two still in the isolation center, recorded a casualty last week. An overzealous police officer pulled the trigger and brought a female colleague down.
The task force team comprising of police and other security personnel were trying to disperse traders an illegal market I Port Harcourt and being a woman, the female officer was pleading that the women’s wares be not destroyed. One bullet was all it took to silence the mother of a cute one year and seven months boy to be silenced forever.
The police officer according to a release from the Rivers State Police Command signed by the PPRO Nnandi Omoni has been dismissed from the force and would be charged to court soon. And this happened barely days after the UN secretary General Antonio Guterres called governments the world over to make human rights a priority in all measures put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Beside these killings and security harassment of women coming back with food had been reported as well as harassment by robbers and cultists.
The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet Monday, slammed Nigeria and 14 other nations including India for gross human rights violation over lockdown compliance. She denounced the killing of over 18 persons as recorded by the Nigerian Human Rights Commission and the shot-at-sight orders as directed by Nigeria and those other countries.
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the populace and even pepertuate their time in power”, Bachelete warned.
The female officer Lovender Elekwachi has become a matyr of the pains women face in periods of conflict. Unfortunately, the killing of women is not restricted to food. Whether there is a pandemic or it celebration time, women must help populate the world but doing so poses danger now.
Nigerians applauded recently when a police team on duty in Lagos watching to ensure compliance of the total lockdown there helped a harassed husband convey the wife who was in labour to a clinic in their van. They even called on the family later to ask after their welfare. But that is an exception rather than a norm. There are more reports of police officers at check-points delaying or obstructing mothers trying to access healthcare services within the period.
There is a current story on twitter where a healthcare giver rushing to help out a woman experiencing trouble in labour was caused to be severally injured and abandoned by a police team in Irele, Ondo State.
According to the post, the nurse/midwife had a call that a woman with a twin pregnancy was in distress. She met three checkpoints two of which she crossed successfully with her ID and explanations but at the third point, the police there threw a log at the motorbike conveying her which unbalanced both the rider and the passenger leaving the caregiver with multiple injuries and of course delayed help for the pregnant woman in distress. This answers to the numerous risks women are facing under this pandemic.
Even at home, there has been an alarming increase in the number of reported cases of rape and domestic abuse as families are forced to stay together longer than ever before.
Reacting to these issues of gender violence, country director of West African Peacebuilding Network,WANEP, Bridget Osakwe called for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Act, VAPP and its application to stem abuses.
Said she:“ We have developed a form, we sent it around.We want to see the incidents so that it will help dedicated interventions. For instance, I will like to see when they say poor of the poor, what is their measure, what is their criteria for measurement of who is propoor. And then when they say economic empowerment, which one is to who, which is the paid, the unpaid job and when you are even looking at taxes for instance, government is looking at tax relief for people, it is men that will get, women do not get. Most of the women are house heads and will not get relief.
“I think government should look at these situations and note the work that takes up women’s time. If the man is demanding more rights and women are doing more work and their work are not getting paid for, those are some of the reasons for the stress causing much of the violence.
“Finally, violence against women is a crime and should be treated as that. The VAPP law is there, it should be enforced and this is an opportunity for states that have not domesticated VAPP to do so and actually use it against men violating women under the pretense of marriage”.
Osakwe said society uses culture, tradition and religion to abuse women and called for a halt.
“In sexual issues, people hide under culture, tradition, and religion to abuse women. I think that it is important that government enforces the law on criminal offences accordingly.”
In a final word to women, she urged them to in their role as custodians of culture promote gender equality by treating their boys and girls equally rather than discriminating against the boys saying, “You no know say you bi boy?”. Borrowing from gender expert Erelu Bisi Fayemi, the WANEP boss advised women to watch out for one another. “Women should share their wrappers with other women, hold your wrapper to protect one another,” she said.