There is no doubt at all that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the world in a way that places huge struggles on families, economies, health, businesses, and so on. The period also turns out to be a very revealing one, especially concerning the roles, challenges, experiences of women and what is expected of them.
A few days ago, my wife got a call from a relative, reporting an abuse on a woman, involving an over 80-year old man and his wife of almost 50 years. The caller recounted very bitterly and angrily, how the aged husband called his 70 year-old wife ‘lazy and economically non-viable’.
It’s a tough time for everyone here in Nigeria, with the lock-down order as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic spread adding to the anxiety – family resources are depleting and there are no adequate palliative measures from government. The pressure just keeps mounting. And in the midst of all this, patriarchy and the prevailing social orientation in Nigeria still put so much expectations on the woman, to perform as ‘the divinely ordained natural care-giver’.
So, with the pressure generated by the challenging times, the woman is expected to manage the home in a way that still leaves everyone happy, even in the midst of the fast eroding family and business resources. Children, domestic workers, extended family members and husband, expect the woman ‘to pull out her magic wand and make things happen’. Where she fails to ‘perform’, she is verbally abused as in the case of the elderly woman above, physically assaulted, despised, or branded as a failure. But how come is the woman expected to fulfil these expectations?
In the Nigeria experience, right from the generation of the aged man in this story, the woman’s role had always been to bear the children (male children, especially), stay at home to nurse the children, take care of the kitchen and home, and generally be ‘a good wife’. Society never expected her to participate in high income yielding economic ventures or it never approved, and in most cases, completely forbid her from earning money.
Although, to date, some very little progress has been made, with the woman being allowed to share office and business space with the man, discrimination still makes it impossible for the woman to meet up with the demands at home. She is not allowed to take decision making and top ranking positions because she is considered too weak to fulfill the hostile work demands created by the men. The man in the office subjects her to sexual harassment and threats; these destabilise her. Then the man in the office schedules important meetings at the same time the man in the house needs her to deliver on the home front. And because of the unfair branding of the woman as being ‘weak’, she is perceived not qualified to earn the same pay with the man, even if the position is the same. This unfair perception of the woman also accounts for why she is mostly resigned to the role of a teacher in school, nurse in the hospital, secretary in the office and other low income generating positions in the economic space.
And because of sexual harassment, she’s faced with the psychological pressure of having to do better than just being good on the job, if she must get a promotion or other economic opportunities. Now in these Covid-19 tough times, it is still the woman, who gets called on for the man’s and general family’s comfort and well-being.
As a way of resolution, using the occasion of the Labour Day celebration, perhaps the world should defend the home by promoting gender equality, feminist policies, women empowerment, girl child education, and as much as possible, given the necessity now, discourage sexual harassment in work places, and other forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.