How a defiant single mum is surviving pandemic poverty

Video report by ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar

Harriet Agasiru used to be teacher. A profession she loved. But coronavirus meant that the schools were shut when lockdown came into force.

Harriet lost her job in Uganda in East Africa and was left without an income.

She was forced to rely on selling maize and mangoes on the street to survive.

“I had to look for something else to earn a living. At least to buy food for a day,” she told ITV News.

“I had no option because I could not go and steal, I could not go and sell myself.”

'I could not sell myself in the streets for men to give me money... I decided to sell Maize.'

Harriet has a young daughter who depends on her as a single parent.

It's a trap that millions of women in the least developed countries in the world find themselves in - as the forgotten victims of coronavirus.

In Northern Nigeria, 75% of women say their earnings have been reduced by the pandemic and a quarter say they no longer earn and are concerned about feeding their children, charity Women for Women told ITV News.

It is a region where food insecurity is already an issue and a third of women say they do not have enough to eat and most say they only have enough "sometimes."

The bleak outlook for women around the world as the pandemic takes its toll

  • A UN study by UNWOMEN and UNDP estimated that by 2021 around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day.

  • 47 million women and girls have been pushed into poverty by Covid-19.

  • Next year, there could be 118 women in poverty for every 100 men.

Harriet found her new profession humiliating.

“The first time when I started, people were laughing at me. They were looking at how there is a teacher selling in the streets,” she said.

But when a journalist shared pictures documenting Harriet's plight on social media, thousands of people were moved to help.

“When my story went viral I can't imagine the help people brought to me,” she said.

“People responded, they send me money some send me food, then some organisation came up to pick me, to start training me.”

That training was organised by the Rego Foundation, helping Harriet and eleven other teachers learn key skills to survive the Covid pandemic.

Susan Hirego, from the foundation, said: “Covid-19 has created more secondary problems that require us to step in and bring in projects that are directed towards women, becoming self-sufficient and making some more money for themselves.”

The women here learn key skills like financial literacy and leadership skills. But also, practical skills that could, in the future, provide a second source of income.

The Rego Foundation teaches some useful skills.

80% of them of them, like Harriet, are single mothers.

Harriet said: “I'm so happy I'm learning new skills... After this I'm sure I won't die of poverty.”

As Harriet sets off a new day filled with hope and purpose, the reality is that there are nearly 50 million of other women around the world whose futures have been ruined by coronavirus.

  • Buki Onyishi is Women for Women Country Director in Africa for Nigeria, she says Women empowerment programmes help women 'find their voices'

The UN estimates that by next year there will be 118 women in poverty for every 100 men - a figure, they say, is the result of differences in vulnerability to the socio-economic consequences.