COVID-19: Why social distancing does not work for Nigerian women

Religion holds an African woman responsible for all domestic chores, and saying no to husbands is not allowed, say Nigerian women 

By Ebere Agozie
Published: Monday 29 June 2020

Social distancing has become a buzzword as the world grapples with ways to deal with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Social distancing is a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions or measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease. It requires maintaining physical distances between people and reducing the number of times they come in close contact with each other.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends keeping a distance of three feet (one metre) from others and avoiding large gathering.

Going by the definition, one wonders how African women stick to these recommendations in view of the roles they play in the society.

There is practically no institution to look after the elderly and children with special needs in Africa’s Nigeria: The challenge of taking care of them is always on the women.

Women do not only take care of the young children at home, feed and bathe them, they also look after their husbands and the aged ones in the family.

Even as beliefs and culture hold an African woman responsible for all domestic chores, some of them also go out to work.

No matter how incongruous it may sound, one cannot but wonder how a nursing mother can keep distance from her child. Social distancing cannot also be observed by rural women because of lack of information or knowledge about the dangers of contracting the deadly virus.

I have discovered that even when the information is passed across to them, social distancing can never be completely observed since they live in slums with a family of seven sharing one room. For some, the one room could also serve as bedroom, living room, kitchen and a store.

It is, therefore, unimaginable that social distancing could be practiced here.

What about women who are stuck with men who think that the COVID-19 is a scam by their governments to squander public funds, or that COVID-19 is a kind of third world war and believe it is a fight for supremacy between the United States and China?

Men also demand sex from their women, even when they are sick. Many a time, their “culture and religion” holds them from objecting.

Most women lamented that their religions have burdened them so much that they are led to go for bizarre and unscientific ways. While some believe that eating spicy African foods will prevent, or even cure, the infection, others think that women’s immune systems are stronger than that of men.

Hajia Fatima Muhammad, a civil servant, believes that women are not supposed to have a say of their own and have to eventually give in to their husband’s demands.

“My husband has three wives. He and all the women go out. If he gets infected through any of the wives or even from his contacts outside, what do I do? I cannot say no to him,” said Fatima.

She added: “My religion and culture forbids me to say no to my husband.”

Mfon Effiong, a businesswoman said, “I am a nursing mother, how do I breastfeed my baby?”

She added that “God sees all the burden carried by women and has thus given us strong systems.”

It is hence clear that the impracticability of social distancing in Nigeria, along with cultural and religious moorings, make women more vulnerable to the virus.

There is no easy way out of this predicament and the real or perceived inequality in the society does not help the matter either.

The less privileged see the pandemic as the ‘big man’s disease’.

There is an urgent need for a much more aggressive grassroots education to make them aware that it is about their health, more than anything else. And the way things are right now, we have barely scratched the surface.

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