There are clear evidences to prove that the global health emergency otherwise called COVID-19 has impacted negatively on world population.
Typical of a pandemic, it has affected the population in all ramifications, especially with the increase in maternal mortality.
Dr Eyitayo Oyetunji, the acting Chairman, National Population Commission (NPC), says the pandemic has impeded maternal care for pregnant women, thereby causing high death of mothers and children.
He said: “COVID-19 has worsened the maternal mortality rate of 556 deaths per 100,000 live births in the country.”
According to him, women dominate the informal sector as trading, entrepreneurial skills and petty businesses and COVID-19 has stampeded progress in that area.
The NPC boss said “as a result of the lockdown imposed on states to curtail the spread of thepandemic, most petty business owners remained home and couldn’t operate, thereby recording losses.
“And because most of the petty businesses are done by women, they continue to count losses as they are unable to operate, leading to hunger and poverty among the women who mostly suffer from anaemia.”
Ms Uller Mueller, the Country Representative, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has continued to canvass for community-based synergy and efforts to end Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) against women and girls.
Mueller noted that COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented setback on the progress so far made in the war against GBV.
The pandemic understandably has denied women, girls and vulnerable population access to quality healthcare and slowed the pace of community engagements and mass awareness campaigns because of the lockdown.
With the lockdown, women and girls are bound to face sexual abuses, rapes and domestic violence, thereby increasing the rate of GBV in the time being.
Mueller called on parents to de-emphasise the preference for sons over girls, which she noted was one of the causes of psychological trauma and discrimination against girls.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, described violence against women as a ” pandemic in a pandemic.
She said that, “with the outbreak of COVID-19, Nigeria, like many other countries, also recorded a spike in Gender Based Violence and an unprecedented surge in rape cases even against minors and older persons.”
Tallen said that the restrictions placed on movements, aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic had, however, dwindled household incomes in many developing countries such as Nigeria.
“Therefore, COVID-19 has dovetailed many households into hunger, food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition, thereby shrinking population with attendant gender inequality.”
The minister said that there was ongoing survey by the ministry in collaboration with the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) to ascertain the number of people who require assistance.
She explained that the survey is also in collaboration with the Small and Medium scale Enterprise (SME) to ascertain the extent in which businesses are affected.
“We undertook a National Survey on the impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Nigeria, and the report was launched on June 27, 2020 to coincide with the UN Micro Small and Medium size Enterprises Day.”
Many stakeholders are also of the view that COVID-19 has impeded women’s access to reproductive health facilities, especially as logistics of getting health facilities become negatively impacted.
Mr Umar Farouk, a public affairs analyst, says he believes COVID-19 lockdown has paralysed the informal sector of the economy, where most women operate.
He said “a huge percentage of Nigerians, especially women, are in the informal sector, who are daily paid workers.
“Many of them are women who now are cashless because of the negative impact of the pandemic on their businesses.”
Many experts are of the opinion that the lockdown triggered unprecedented low usage of contraceptives, which underlies the UN unmet needs for family planning.
It is pertinent to note that Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are prevalent due to unprotected sex, and the inability to access protection commodities.
Mr Malachy Ugwu, a pharmacist in Abuja, called for concerted efforts to mitigate the challenges of women and those left behind.
Ugwu, who commended the Federal Government toward efforts to cushion the effects of the pandemic, also lauded government for initiating programmes toward ending violence against women such as the Better Education Service Delivery Programme for Result (BESDA) for rescuing out of school children.
Some schools of thought advocate strict evaluation of the situation for data generation to ascertain the negative impact of the lockdown on women’s means of income.
Mrs Simbiat Shehu, a Karu market trader in Nasarawa State, said a survey on post COVID-19 was necessary to take into stock the harms, gains and pains of the pandemic on the micro economic wellbeing of women in Nigeria.
Shehu opined that a good number of women are now out of business because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
She added that “many of my colleagues in the market could not continue because of shortage of money to buy stock or lack of customers.
“Some have even died of heart attack as a result of pressure from family and microfinance banks they took loan facilities from,” she said.
Meanwhile, the theme of the 2020 World Population Day (WPD), “Putting the brakes on COVID-19: How to safeguard the Health and Rights of Women and Girls Now” is apt, an affirmation that women and girls are worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrated annually on July 11, the day is to focus on the multiple challenges people across the world are facing and proffer solutions to them.
Preparatory to the WPD celebration, the UNFPA also launched the State of World Population (SWOP) Report on June 30, 2020, highlighting the magnitude of harmful practices against women and girls, child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation and son preference.
The report provided guidance to government partners on what needed to be done to eliminate the problems.
According to the report, an additional 13 million children are forced into early marriage between 2020 and 2030; the deadline set by UNFPA for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
It attempts to take stock of the state of the world’s population, especially those often left behind, particularly women and girls and determine the way forward to ensure that their fundamental rights are upheld.
By Ikenna Osuoha