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Mothers, Women And Social Safety Nets

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Social policy in developing countries provides crucial assistance to women, but evidence shows that it is increasingly being limited to women who are mothers.
Associating women with children and families is hardly new in society. What is surprising, however, is how much recent social policy has embraced and reinforced this association, funneling large sums of money into prograams for mothers at the expense of programs furthering women’s socioeconomic empowerment and autonomy.
What has alsao been sidelined — or is entirely nonexistent — are efforts to encourage men’s equal contribution to caregiving and childrearing at home.
Consider, for instance, cash-transfer programs such as Prospera in Latin America. Although widely celebrated for improving children’s health and educational results, many such programs operate on the assumption that mothers hold primary responsibility for child care. Accordingly, they disburse cash to mothers only, not fathers, on condition that their children attend school and get regular health checkups.
India’s huge Janani Suraksha Yojana, or Mother Protection Program, is another major example. Modeled after Latin American programs, it seeks to improve maternal health by giving cash assistance to pregnant women who give birth in health facilities. Women’s receipt of social benefits is contingent on their status as mothers.
The Indian program, which serves more than 10 million women a year and has received an annual allocation of about $280 million in recent years, far outstrips most other social policies for women in its size and financing. But it was not always so.
Thirty years ago, the idea of cash for pregnant mothers was just a sideshow to an important women’s empowerment proposal in the 1989 electoral platform of the Indian National Congress party. Called the Indira Mahila Yojana, or Indira Women’s Program, it promised to overhaul social policy and make unprecedented investments in women’s socioeconomic advances by promoting their entrepreneurship, employment, education and social mobilization.
The program was intended to support women’s autonomy regardless of their marital or parental status. It was trumpeted as the cornerstone of a new progressive and rights-based approach to social policy.
Today, however, that program is defunct after a short, underresourced life of little consequence, and it is the pregnant mothers program that has become one of India’s most generously funded plans for women and one of the largest cash-transfer programs in the world in the number of beneficiaries.
The pro-motherhood trend, or “maternalization,” of social policy can also be seen in the overall character of social programming and expenditure for women in India. Since the late 1980s, the total inflation-adjusted spending by the federal government on programs designed exclusively for adult women (including women-specific spending on programs assisting both women and their children) has prioritized mothers.
As a result, “maternalist” programs, which provide maternal health care and other benefits to mothers, have grown relative to nonmaternalist programs, which seek women’s advancement through initiatives for microcredit, job training, educational assistance, public leadership training and public safety.
What has caused this shift toward maternalism? Although domestic factors undoubtedly contribute to this trend wherever it occurs, a common driver across countries may be found in the international community’s emphasis on maternal health as a key development goal for women. We do not have to look much further than the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to illustrate this pattern.
As many experts have noted, the eight MDGs introduced at the turn of this century incorporated two goals that are explicitly gendered: MDG 3, which called for educational parity between boys and girls, and MDG 5, which promoted better maternal health. Only the latter goal related to adult women. So adult women appeared in the MDGs only as mothers.
Improved maternal health is a worthy objective, and given that the maternal mortality goal proved to be the worst performer of all MDGs by some measures, the international community’s attention to it is understandable. Yet motherhood is only one of women’s roles, and for most women, pregnancy accounts for no more than a fraction of their lifespans. Social protection contingent on maternity status thus fails to provide what most women need during most of their lives. A safety net cannot get more patchy than this.
Nangia writes from Abuja.

 

Pakirti Nangia

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COVID-19: Be Creative In Foods, Others’ Packaging, Women

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Women have been admonished to be creative and begin to do proper packaging of foods and other household consumables and products for sales in the markets or to targeted customers in order to attract good patronage, especially at this critical time when the novel Coronavirus is ravaging the world.
They were also told that they would only attract customers and get constant calls for home deliveries if they observe best practices, and ensure that due protocols in personal hygiene were adhered to at all times.
Speaking during a recent programme organised by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, in Port Harcourt, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Women Affairs, Mrs Uche Chukwu said that part of ways to cushion the sufferings of women, especially those that were bread-winners was for them to do proper product sales packaging in efforts to boost market penetration and increase customer confidence.
Chukwu stressed that women were most hit by the COVID-19 lockdown because they form the bulk of traders and small business owners, saying that following the shutdown of most markets across the country, women were facing severe stress in meeting their expectations and needs, just as their revenue earnings have plummeted.
She regretted that most devastated by the lockdown were those, who were not ready to explore other means of survival, and were not ready to tap into their creative and innovative skills to design new ways of adapting to meet their customers’ changing demands and expectations, emphasising that with proper sales packaging, no woman would be affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Chukwu advised women managing restaurants, food-is-ready, or food vendors in markets and shops to take full advantage of the lockdown to expand their network of customers or delve into other meaningful ventures to feed their families.
While listing some of the ventures they can delve into as cooking of all kinds of food, production of hand sanitisers, soaps, face masks, and other household items, added that, “with a sachet of Hypo mixed with detergent, hand sanitiser can be made.”
The permanent secretary further explained that the hand sanitiser can be used for washing of hands, mopping of floors as well as wiping of doors, windows, and cleaning of tables, among others, adding that women should not dwell on the challenges, but device ways out of the situation in order to be able to put food on the table for their children.
The woman activist stressed that women were psychologically prepared to package foods properly at home, and smartly distribute and sell same to those in dire need without flaunting the COVID-19 lockdown regulations.
She said: “Women must engage in other meaningful ventures during this period of COVID-19 lockdown in order to avoid harassment and abuse by security operatives deployed to enforce the law. It is too painful to hear that women are being de-humanised by police officers, but there is nothing women activists and groups can do when they flaunt COVID-19 lockdown law.
“There are high demands now on hand sanitisers and face masks. Women should make proper use of this opportunity to think outside the box and start preparing hand sanitisers and cook neatly packaged food for sale since there is hunger all over the land. Those who cannot cook good food can use their money to place orders from others who are endowed for home delivery without violating COVID-19 regulations,” she stressed.
Earlier, the Executive Director, Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, Mrs Emem Okon, had stressed the need for the centre to mainstream COVID-19 into its programme of activities.
Okon added that by so doing, the centre would be able to address some of the immediate and long-term needs of the people of Rivers State, stressing that the government alone cannot do everything for the people.

 

By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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COVID-19: Women Front And Centre

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One thing is clear about the COVID-19 pandemic, as stock markets tumble, schools and universities close, people stockpile supplies and home becomes a different and crowded space: this is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, exposing the deficiencies of public and private arrangements that currently function only if women play multiple and underpaid roles.
With children out of school, mothers at home may still work, but many have also become teachers and caregivers, with consequences for those previously employed in those roles. For the 8.5 million women migrant domestic workers, often on insecure contracts, income loss also affects their dependents back at home. As schools close in more countries, the number of mothers facing this across the world rises and the consequences accumulate.
By the middle of March there were 207,855 confirmed cases in 166 countries, areas or territories. Without data that is disaggregated by sex, however, these numbers give us only part of the story of the impact on women and men. We need far more sex-disaggregated data to tell us how the situation is evolving, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Even without this, experience from previous major epidemics points us to specific strengths and vulnerabilities that we can look out for and be proactive to safeguard. Where governments or businesses put income protection in place, this can ease these dilemmas, sustain incomes and avoid driving households into poverty. This response must also include those in the informal economy, where most women who work outside home make their livelihood. Such social protection is best directed specifically to women.
The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in the West African countries provide essential, gendered public health and socioeconomic lessons. Women in those outbreaks were exposed to both health and economic risks, as they are again now, in ways intrinsically connected with their roles in the community and responsibilities as caregivers within the home and family.
For example, both Ebola and Zika infections are potentially catastrophic for pregnant women. Yet during both previous outbreaks, access to family planning services were very limited, and pregnant and lactating women were excluded from vaccination against the viruses. This underlines the importance of sustained maternal health services to avoid a resurgence of birth-related deaths, and equal access for women to the development and use of all medical products including vaccines once produced.
This is a moment for governments to recognize both the enormity of the contribution women make and the precarity of so many. This includes a focus on sectors where women are over-represented and underpaid, such as daily wage earners, small business owners, those working in cleaning, caring, cashiering and catering sectors and in the informal economy.
Globally, women make up 70 per cent of frontline workers in the health and social sector, like nurses, midwives, cleaners and laundry workers. We need mitigation strategies that specifically target both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on women and that support and build women’s resilience, as we saw in Liberia and elsewhere. And to make those responses as well designed as possible, women should be fully engaged in their creation, be priority recipients of aid, and partners in building the longer-term solutions.
We are learning more every day from the arc of the pandemic in China. We have been working closely there with country leadership as part of the UN collective response. Joint campaigns have reached 1 billion people, with communications that raise awareness through public health information, combat stigma and discrimination, reflect women’s specific needs, promote women’s leadership and contributions and develop recovery plans that link equality, health and the economy.
All of us engaged in this effort, whether public or private sector, need to take a coordinated, people-centred approach to rapidly building health system capacity in both developed and developing countries, making a conscious effort to put women front and centre. For example, creating better access to appropriate personal protective equipment for home-based caregivers, and removing obstacles to their work, by promoting flexible working arrangements, and ensuring supplies of menstrual hygiene products. These needs are even more important for areas under lockdown or quarantine. So too are considerations of gender-based violence that are exacerbated by these conditions, but may not receive the attention they need, in the drive to respond to the pandemic.
Violence against women is already an epidemic in all societies, without exception. Every day, on average, 137 women are killed by a member of their own family. We also know that levels of domestic violence and sexual exploitation spike when households are placed under the increased strains that come from security, health and money worries, and cramped and confined living conditions. We see this frequently among displaced populations in crowded refugee camps; and reported domestic violence has tripled recently in some countries practising social distancing.
COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity for radical, positive action to redress long-standing inequalities in multiple areas of women’s lives. There is scope for not just endurance, but recovery and growth. I ask governments and all other service providers including the private sector to take this opportunity to plan their response to COVID-19 as they have never done before, and fully take a gender perspective into account, proactively building gender expertise into response teams and embedding gender dimensions within response plans. For example, include surge funding for women’s shelters so they can provide for women who need to escape violent relationships, and aim economic support and bail outs specifically at retail sectors, hospitality and small businesses where women are predominantly employed on precarious contracts, if any, and are most vulnerable to forced cost-saving.

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Rape, Assault Allegation: NAWOJ Wants Unbiased Investigation

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The Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) has called on the Kogi State Government to ensure accelerated and unbiased investigation of the alleged act of assault and rape committed by the state’s Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Abdumumuni Danga.
The association made the call in a statement signed by its National President, Mrs Ifeyinwa Omowole, in Abuja, and made available to The Tide, last Monday
It would be recalled that in a video, which had gone viral on social media recently, a beauty queen, Elizabeth Oyeniyi, alleged that Danga abducted, assaulted and forcefully had sex with her over a Facebook post.
According to the victim, she had earlier appealed to the commissioner to assist his family member, who is also a friend of the victim, on her Facebook wall in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Oyeniyi, however, explained that the commissioner got enraged with the post and ordered some boys to pick her and his sister from Okene to Lokoja where the commissioner personally flogged them and raped her.
She further alleged that her phone was smashed and the commissioner intimidated her to recant her Facebook claims through a make-believe video in which she apologised and spoke nicely of him.
Although, the state governor has reportedly suspended the commissioner and ordered an investigation into the matter, human rights organisations, civil society groups, including the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), have all called for justice.
However, NAWOJ in its statement, urged Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, to ensure that objective and unbiased investigation is carried out promptly on the allegation and the accused adequately punished, if found guilty.
“While the media is awash with false information that the commissioner had been suspended, NAWOJ reliably learnt that the commissioner was yet to be suspended and no punishment had been meted out to him.
“Although a probe has been initiated by the state Governor, Yahaya Bello, NAWOJ wishes to urge the panel and the governor to fast-track the probe and not unduly delay it.
“It is worthy of note that many days after this allegation, the said commissioner is yet to deny the allegation against him, pointing to the fact that he may be guilty as alleged.
“NAWOJ also notes that although the victim has already indicated interest to seek legal redress, the onus still lies on the state government, if it is not complicit, to take a decisive action against the erring commissioner.
“Governor Yahaya Bello must take a clear stance to be against violence and assault on women by taking a decisive action against the commissioner, an action that would serve as a deterrent to others with similar traits,” the statement read in part.
The association, therefore, called on the state governor to ensure that the accused is made to step-down as a public office holder so that he does not intimidate the victim or her family.
It added that other women groups and lawyers would be rallied to ensure that Oyeniyi gets justice.
“We can no longer have people in authority who should be custodians of the law breaking same laws with impunity and yet attempting to hold onto supposedly honourable positions,” it stated.

 

Stories by Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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