News Analysis: COVID-19: Challenges of Rural women and social distancing

As the world grapples with prevention and finding cure for the #covid-19 outbreak, #social distancing has become a buzzword. Incidentally, many of the recommendations given by health experts as to the required keeping of distance between people have to do with what makes life pleasurable and in contradiction with some long established traditions.

According to Wikipedia,  social distancing, or physical distancing, is a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions or measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining physical distances between people and reducing the number of times people come into close contact with eachother.

Also, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) soccial distancing involves keeping a distance of three feet (one meter) from others and avoiding gathering in large groups.

It is established that when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease.

A person is adviced to avoid going to crowded places because where people come together in crowds, it is more likely to come into close contact with someone that has COIVD-19 and it is more difficult to maintain physical distance of 1 metre (3 feet).

Going by the above definition, one wonders how women in rural areas will stick to these recommendations by health experts, considering the roles they play in the society. In Africa where there are basically no institutions that take care of the elderly and children with special needs, the challenge of taking care of them is left to the women.

Women as care givers do not only take care of the young children at home, feed and bathe them, they equally take care of their husbands and their aged ones. Even as the typical belief or culture of an African woman revolves around domestic chores, some of these women are also the breadwinners of their homes. So, they go out and are exposed and come back to give care.

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For instance, no matter how incongruous it may sound, one cannot but wonder how a nursing mother can keep distance from her suckling child without the attendant psychological trauma that follows every woman separated from her child.

More especially,  social distancing cannot also be observed by rural women because of lack of information or knowledge about the dangers of contracting the deadly virus. Findings reveals that even when the information is passed across to them, social distancing can never be completely observed since most of them basically live in what is considered slums.

Social distancing is literally impossible for people living in small apartments. For some of them the one room could also serve as bedroom, living room, kitchen and store. It is therefore unimaginable that social distancing could be practiced here.

Some of these women are with men with erroneous belief that the coronavirus is a scam by their respective governments to squander public funds, or that the COVID-19 is a kind of third world war, and thereby narrowing it to the fight for supremacy between the United States of America and China.

These men will always demand for sex from their women, even when they are sick, and of course there are the factors of culture and religion. Culture and religion give the women no choice but to succumb to the advances of such men, which sometimes come in the form of commands.

While the social distancing is part of prescribed ways of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it is nonetheless going to be very difficult for women trying to go about their lives to stay healthy while still carrying the burden of the people around them.

Most of the women interviewed lamented that their religions and culture have put much burden on them as women. They seemed constrained by these factors which smark of obvious indoctrination, almost amounting to brainwashing.

Some believe that eating of spicy African foods will prevent, and even cure the virus. For some, it’s a big man’s sickness and for those who eat the oyibo (foreign) kinds of food. They all believe that women’s immune systems are made strong by God, and that is why more men get the virus than women.

Hajia Fatima Muhammad, a civil servant jokingly asked, ‘how can I observe social distancing when my husband will not keep away from me?’

“My husband has three wives, he goes out, all the wives go out too to do different businesses and come back home to have bodily contact with our husband. If he gets infected either through any of the wives or even from his contacts outside and still wants to sleep with me, what do I do since I cannot say no to him”?

Mfon Effiong, a business woman angrily responded, “Abeg leave that big man sickness, I am a nursing mother, how do I breastfeed my baby?

“I heard more men are infected than women, and more women survive than men even though we still sleep with them and bodily fluids are exchanged in the process. Besides God has seen all the loads we carry as women and has thus given us strong systems. I will not be infected in Jesus name,’’ she declared.

From the above encounter, it is clear that the practicability of social distancing by rural women is a massive challenge. There is no easy way out of this predicament and the real or perceived inequality in the society does not help matters either.

The less privileged members of the public still believed that the government has always left them with the short end of the stick. They, therefore, see the current pandemic which they still see as the ‘big man’s disease as divine punishment for their perceived oppressors.

It is therefore clear that the government has its work cut out by the public in this time of great fear, culture conflict, health challenges and social inequality in dealing with COVID-19 . More than anything else, there is an urgent need for more aggressive grassroots education to sink in the preventive measures needed to contain this pandemic in the country.

#### If used, please acknowledge the writer and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).


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