PRIORITISING WOMEN AND GIRLS SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH NEEDS AMIDST COVID-19 PANDEMIC
As Nigeria joins the World to celebrate this year’s World Population Day, Development Communications Network (DevComs) calls on the Nigerian government to provide for the needs of women and girls in line with this year’s World Population Day (WPD) which focuses on raising awareness of women’s and girls’ needs for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and vulnerabilities during the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It is imperative that the government should provide adequate protection against adversities arising from the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls in the country. Evidence has shown that the pandemic has made women and girl’s more vulnerable with dare consequences including sexual violence, rape, unplanned pregnancy and various other hazards including loss of lives.
Women and girls make up over 49% of the total population in Nigeria (World Bank) and it is highly imperative that the needs of half the population of the country be prioritized to enhance gender equality for all. Majority of women and girls in the country still live in extreme poverty, are out of school or not aware of their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR). These have rendered the group vulnerable as a result of lack of equal opportunities compared to their male counterpart, especially amidst the pandemic.
DevComs Executive Director, Akin Jimoh, stated that “there is a need for sustainable public information dissemination as a first step to address the vulnerabilities revolving around SRH challenges of women and girls in order for them to live a healthy life even in the face of COVID-19.”
A good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system (UNFPA 2020). It implies that women and girls are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. A lot of women and girls are not aware of their SRHR. To maintain a healthy sexual and reproductive health women and girls need access to quality and accurate information on safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception of choice.
Another major key to addressing SRH vulnerabilities of women and girl’s is to make available modern contraceptives/ family planning (FP) commodities and supplies, including menstrual health and hygiene items. This is because these items are central to adolescents’ girls and women’s health, empowerment, and the exercise of sexual and reproductive health and rights as these groups can be disproportionately affected by the pandemic (UNFPA, 2020).
The media advocacy project on FP by DevComs Network, in partnership with the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI), The Challenge Initiative (TCI), alongside governments at all levels has proven the media to be a strategic tool to sensitizing women and girls on their SRH rights. DevComs Network in collaboration with TCI is currently training and mentoring journalists across media organisations in 13 states across the country. The organisation has over the years trained and mentored journalists in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, playing a leading role in strategic communication and media engagement in science and public Health issues concerning different sectors of the Nigerian economy.
The future of our women and girls can be managed wisely doing otherwise can lead to a chain of negative consequences including morbidity and mortality and population explosion, among target groups. The need to empower women and the girl child is urgent and imperative, says Akinpelumi Akinlolu, DevComs head of operations.