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Balancing Gender Equity amidst Global Health Inequities. IWD-2021

Regardless of our experiences, education, or abilities, the patriarchal nature of society in LMICs, fosters the perception that women are less qualified and less competent. Culturally, rural women in LMICs form the bulk of the population- over 80% in Nigeria. These rural women are more vulnerable to multiple forms of development imbalances such as low education,  closely linked to poorer health outcomes, all forms of violence, lack of access to credit facilities and low financial empowerment. The average participation of women in politics in Nigeria has remained 6.7 percent in both elective and appointive positions, which is far below the Global Average of 22.5 percent, Africa Regional Average of 23.4 percent and West African Sub Regional Average of 15 percent. – (National Bureau of Statistics-NBS, Abuja, Nigeria. 1999-2015).

International Women’s Day, 8th March, is a day set aside to applaud and recognize the progress made in achieving equality for women. It is also a day to consider the challenges which remain and are yet to be conquered, and the gaps that are yet to be closed if we are to achieve equality for both men and women. Building on this year’s International Women’s Day theme: ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’,  It highlights how women can be equal partners in decision-making processes, especially those regarding policymaking. This year, the need of the hour is to highlight the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The women of Kebbi state, like others in Nigeria, are mostly on subsistence income and suffered greatly in the lockdown. Fortunately, many female-centric programs of the government of H.E. Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu ameliorated this. Grants and aid were made available to women in the state. Perhaps by far, the greatest achievement for the women of Kebbi State was the governors submission of two protective laws on GBV – VAPP and Child Protection Acts to the State House of Assembly for their considerations and passage into law. Although the laws are yet to be passed, for the first time numerous open and honest discussions have been held amongst all the stakeholders – women focused civil society, the council of Ulamas, law enforcement agencies, legal bodies, and the office of the First Lady. Myths around the hitherto taboo subject are being debunked and we are speaking to mindsets. Using Covid compliant town hall meetings and webinars, rural outreaches, mainstream and social media; we have been conversing with the set attitudes of the people- men and women inclusive. We are slowly teaching women and young schoolgirls their worth and urging them to dare, and challenge negative norms and have the confidence to say NO.

Covid-19 and the lockdown also magnified systemic inequities that have long been perpetuated by barriers in access to quality healthcare, especially in Low to Middle-Income Countries. In January 2021, WHO issued a call to all countries to work together in solidarity – and in each of their best interests – to ensure that within the first 100 days of the year, vaccination of health workers and older people was underway in all countries. It is encouraging to see the growing movement behind #VaccinEquity. As an ardent advocate of eliminating cervical cancer, Vaccine inequality is one I have dealt with in my campaign to include HPV Vaccine in the Nigerian routine immunisation schedule. It is yet to happen due to long waiting queues populated by high income countries where girls as well as boys get the vaccine routinely. Each year, over 500,000 women, who are the sole sufferers of cervical cancer continue to die. 80% of these preventable deaths are from LMICs.

Within a year of the first reported case of COVID-19, we celebrated the amazing development and approval of the vaccine. Indeed this is a milestone success in global health. Nigerians also celebrated the arrival of 4M doses, for our population of 250million. One wonders how the health authorities will ensure a fair distribution that allows people of different sex, means and backgrounds to access the limited vaccine.

While the Covid-19 vaccine offers the brightest hope of ending a pandemic that has dramatically impacted the world, we must intensify efforts towards a world free of other health challenges like cervical cancer, through the HPV vaccine. As we build back our economies, we must adopt a synergy between COVID-19 and cervical cancer elimination plans. It is my ardent hope that with the inequities exposed through the COVID-19 pandemic, more priorities and opportunities to ameliorate are given to female economies.

A post COVID19 world cannot afford to leave women behind. Now more than ever, emerging economies needs the immeasurable contributions that women are capable of making. Nigerian women are resilient and capable leaders in all spheres of the society be it in the political, professional, or academic. What we greatly lack is the OPPORTUNITY. We are therefore grateful for days like the IWD, that allows us to amplify the call.

Dr. Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, First Lady of Kebbi State Consultant Paediatrician and Founder Medicaid Cancer Foundation

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