As the world battle the novel Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic, women and children remain vulnerable to effects of the virus especially the economic hardship that comes with lock-down in most part of Nigeria. In this vein, it becomes imperative to advocate for Legislative Action on COVID-19 from an inclusive women perspective.
This informed the webinar hosted by Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement with 6 female legislators from state houses of assemblies to discuss taking legislative action on COVID-19. The meeting provided an opportunity to get insight into the actions taken by female legislators and the importance of a balanced gender perspective amid the crisis.
Female lawmakers at their respective assemblies supported passage of legislations to protect its citizens and state from the spread of COVID-19. One of such decisions is the closure of borders to prevent entry into or exit out of the state. They also embarked on massive sensitization of their constituents and distribution of hand sanitizers, washing buckets and detergents while some lawmakers took step further by reaching out to elderly and vulnerable with food and monetary palliatives.
Speaking during the meeting hosted on zoom, Hon. Binta Mamman from Niger state made a clarion call saying, “we are representative of the people; they came out to vote for us. This is the time we need to show our constituents that we care about them.” Lawmakers need to provide relief materials for constituents before even commencing sensitization because citizens have been violating the social distance regulation due to need to make ends meet. She called for collective effort between both legislative and executive arm of government to provide support for citizens while also calling for legislations that will improve lives of citizens.
Hon. Nwachukwu Chinwe Lillian also shared the effort made by the legislative arm of government in Ebonyi state saying legislators have passed a law to backing all the COVID-19 precautionary measures and regulations to combat the pandemic. The law also criminalizes artificial hike and hoarding of essential food and services to stem the economic effect of the pandemic. “This is in addition to submitting our April salaries to the fight against the pandemic”, she enthused
Similarly, Hon. Regina Anyogo revealed that the Cross-River state house of assembly had also passed similar legislation to provide legal backing to regulations by National Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organisation. This is amongst other efforts to reach out to constituents with relief materials and sensitization activities.
For instance, Hon. Atinuke Christianah Bello, Chief whip of Ogun state house of assembly went back to her community to sensitize them on precautionary measures and distributed T-shirt with education messages inscribed to create awareness. During the meeting with Yiaga Africa, she said “I raised a billboard in my constituency with information that covid-19 is real, showing symptoms, precautionary measures and numbers to call for information. I also distributed a total of 4,000 pieces of sanitizers to market, churches, mosques and individuals.” “I have identified elderly vulnerable people and gave them at least 10,000 to stem the effect of economic hardship”, she said.
Some of the female lawmakers with support from the executive were able to provide food stuffs like Rice, beans, yam, noodles among others to as many as 500,000 households as revealed by Honorable Atinuke Bello of Ogun state.
The tale is similar with the only female lawmaker in Ondo state house of assembly Hon. Tomomewo Favour Semiloore who revealed that all members of the state assemblies returned to their constituency to sensitize them on the dangers of the pandemic. According to her, state lawmakers distributed face masks and hand sanitizers to communities within their constituents.
Not too Young To Run strategy team members led by Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs, Cynthia Mbamalu, Chioma Agwuebo, Nana Nwachukwu,Bella, Yetunde Bakare, Anne Ndubuisi Ibrahim Faruk urged the lawmakers to document and amplify the impact they have made in this period. The female lawmakers were also urged to distinguish themselves by being intentional in their interventions especially targeted at women as women remain more victims of the pandemic.
They reiterated that, providing educational content to students via TV and radio should be done across all states to continue the disruption in the educational sector. According to Anne Ndubuisi, leaders must reinstate the confidence of their people by constantly communicating and remaining connected with the people. The female lawmakers were further urged to reach the communities that are often ignored so that people will feel part and parcel of this process.
Cynthia also urged female lawmakers to take a step further to fight against gender-based violence in this era where women are confined with their potential abusers. She advised that hotlines where citizens can reach out to in case of any form of human rights violation of violence, should be made available.
Another participant at the webinar, Dr Ernest Ereke, Program Manager, of Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement urged lawmakers to continue their oversight functions on the executive to ensure accountability and transparency in all expenses related to COVID-19. He said, lawmakers must begin to engage the executive by asking for documentations on funds allocated and the various measures taken to fight the pandemic.
Senior Program Officer, Yetunde Bakare further shared important guidelines on taking legislative action on COVID-19, urging lawmakers to educate their constituents on the symptoms of the pandemic and preventive measures to reduce the risk of getting infected. According to Mrs Bakare, it is important to regularly check on the health and wellbeing of constituents during this difficult time. The guidelines also include the procurement and distribution of protective equipment and basic relief materials to alleviate economic hardship as constituents remain lock-down.
She advised legislators to reach out to their constituents via sensitization messages using various platforms like Television, Radio and social media platforms. Lawmakers were also urged to leverage on technology to share short videos to inspire hope and encourage constituents to follow preventive measures.