Earlier this year, we launched our fourth annual GGAC essay competition. For the contest, Nigerian girls between 13 and 19 years old were asked to submit 2,000 word essays in response to the following question:
"What do you think the greatest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on women and girls, and what can be done to cope with this crisis?"
All essays were evaluated on the quality of the arguments made, grammar and vocabulary, and the overall flow of the essay. We're excited to announce the top four winners of this year's competition: Joy Ikoojo Ilabija, Moyosoreoluwa Fagunleka, Chidinma Faith Onyeweaku, and Amara Goodness Okorie.
Many thanks to all who participated this year. The essays submitted provided great insight into the effects of the pandemic and some of the ways the government, the private sector, and civil society can begin to address the issues brought on by the novel coronavirus. Read on for excerpts from the winning essays.
1. Joy Ikoojo Ilabija
The crisis had great impact on women’s health and safety apart from the direct impact of the disease. The pandemic made it difficult for women and girls to receive treatment and health services. Women and girls who already faced health and safety implications in coping with their sexual and reproductive health and menstrual hygiene without access to clean water and private toilets before the pandemic, are extremely in danger. When healthcare systems were overwhelmed and resources were redistributed to respond to the covid-19 pandemic, it threw health services unique to the well being of women and girls in disorder.
The government should make provisions for standard health services to be continued. Attention needs to be paid to medical care for older women, antenatal, post-natal, pre-natal and delivery services. Private sectors especially the health sector should facilitate the development and dissemination of public health messages that relate to different concerns of women and girls. Due to limited access to education therefore low levels of literacy in some areas, the message (about covid-19) should be made accessible, culturally appropriate and understandable by all. These messages should contain important information on delivery procedures, healthy sexual and reproductive behaviors and menstrual hygiene. Applications should also be made available to install on devices to help disseminate this information better.
2. Moyosoreoluwa Fagunleka
Women are usually responsible for child care within families in Nigeria. With the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children of school age are at home and have to be looked after mainly by mothers. The opportunity cost here is that while men may be able to resume work whenever restrictions are lifted, many women will only be able to resume work fully when schools resume. This will certainly lead to loss of income and entrench gender inequality. Similarly, the amount of domestic work done by women in terms of cooking and general housekeeping will remarkably increase, thereby putting additional mental and physical stress on women.
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbates the existing socio-economic problems in Nigeria. Even though the impact of the pandemic is faced by all demographics, it is generally higher among girls and women. It may be difficult to have policy measures that can address most of the problems in the short term, rather, the aim may be to ensure that government policies and the efforts being put in place to curb the spread of the disease do not aggravate the already bad situation.
3. Chidinma Faith Onyeweaku
The COVID-19 pandemic increased the rate of poverty and hunger to a large extent, this adverse effect can result to a young girl being married off in order to lessen her family’s financial burden, or even worse, a real risk with lockdowns and extended school closure increases the cases of teenage pregnancy amongst young girls due to either sexual abuse or mere ignorance of the unfavorable effects of pre-marital sex. Girls in this category become very uncertain about their education after the pandemic. During the pandemic, many schools were shut down and even if remote learning is still made available, most girls who were probably not married off have been forced to drop out of schools in order to help their mothers with caring for other family members thereby taking up extra labor and household chores.
When the crisis has passed, and schools are reopened, it is very crucial to see that girls go back to school, and those who were in more ways than one affected by the virus should be given extra psychological support to be emotionally ready for the classroom again. Orientation on sexual and reproductive health should be observed in rural communities as well.
4. Amara Goodness Okorie
A pandemic can end girls education, in many of the countries where being a girl is already a barrier to education, when the barrier is amplified by a health crisis and a potential lockdown thus makes maintaining an education difficult for all children but especially for girls. If the effect of Covid-19 and lockdown measures which led school closure, it could even result in a young girl being married off in order to lessen her family's financial burdens. Girls in underdeveloped communities and rural areas may not be able to access online learning platforms thereby increasing the number of out of school girls. UN experts predicts that as many as 13 million more child marriages could take place over the next 10 years because of shutdown of schools.
For girls making the switch to learning at home, its important to consider the needs and risk among the most vulnerable families especially around stress management and helping parents create a supportive learning environment, what's more when the crisis has passed and schools can reopen, its also critical to ensure that girls go back to school and that those who are actually affected by covid-19 survivors, unaccompanied minors, are given psychological support to be emotionally ready for the classroom once again.