"I survived the virus attack. I identified alternative methods to do the business"

Sangita Jacob Duggal, Nutrition Manager in Nigeria, learned how to live with change and in the new normal

26 March 2021

On March 8, it's International Women's Day. This year’s theme is "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world", celebrating the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. At UNICEF, we want to celebrate the achievements of women in leadership positions, and also those who display leadership qualities.

Throughout the whole month of March 2021, the Women's Month, we publish the stories of only a few of the many women who make a difference in UNICEF every day. Today, we host the interview of Sangita Jacob Duggal, our Nutrition Manager in UNICEF Nigeria.

Sangita Jacob interacting with community
Sangita Jacob Duggal

I survived the virus attack. And I identified alternative methods to do the business.

Women understand emotions well. During the COVID-19 pandemic this was important because teams were going through a lot of stress and anxieties.

I used every opportunity to do counselling and supportive interaction to minimize stress levels
providing the platform to laugh, smile, and care for each other

Sangita Jacob Duggal

Nutrition Manager, Nigeria

Who are you and what is your role at UNICEF?

I am Sangita Jacob Duggal, Nutrition Manager in Maiduguri, Nigeria. I plan and lead implementation of Nutrition strategic actions in the Humanitarian situation. I lead a team of Public Health and Nutrition Professionals to be consistent, efficient and relevant in delivery of nutrition programmes to children and women in emergency situations, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did COVID-19 impact your life, both on professional as well as on personal level?

COVID-19 impacted my professional life to a large extent. Initially, it came as a shock because of the fear of the unknown and the lockdown, the travel restrictions, the gaps in interpersonal communications with communities, etc. But as I moved forward and lived with it, I identified alternative methods to do the business. Some of the examples are very interesting: introducing and insetting using contactless, virtual meetings and technical discussions, and even program monitoring. Now, I am adjusted to working from home within the duty station. Personally, I am one of the survivors from the virus attack, as soon as I started working in difficult duty station, where the medical services are challenging. As I got cured, I became the support to my teams and family in keeping all the protocols for prevention. Now, it seems that I have learned to live with the changes in life style and the new normal is part of both professional and personal life.

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted women, mothers and girls' lives, and how?

It has changed the lives of people to the extent that family income is reduced substantially. Because of lockdowns and restrictions, many businesses, industries and markets were closed for a longer period. The employees were sent back home without jobs. Reduced income and increased food prices impacted the purchase capacity of the poor families; the ability to satisfy the basic needs - such as food and nutrition - of most vulnerable women, children and girls was impacted. The increased cost of food reduced consumption of quality food items and the healthy behaviors were reduced resulting increase in morbidities and mortalities. This increased undernutrition of children and women, as well as the likelihood for severe forms of malnutrition. Slowly the restrictions are lifted, but changes in jobs, income, accessibility and consumption, nutritious diets, as well as food insecurity still persist.

What do you believe are women's strengths, and what are the advantages of female leadership in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic?

Women are resilient and very adaptive to change. They are HOME CARETAKERS by nature, so taking care of elders and children during the pandemic was added to their traditional role. Even in the situation of working from home, balancing work and life was very evident in women. Advantages of female leadership is that hands-on coaching to change and adapting to behavior change becomes easy for the teams. The caring behavior of women support teams, as they suggest and approve flexible working arrangements. Women understand emotions well. During the COVID-19 pandemic this was important because teams were going through a lot of stress and anxieties. As woman leaders, I used every opportunity to do counselling and supportive interaction that minimize the stress level of teams. I created events and opportunities for the team to virtually celebrate birthdays and farewell parties, providing the platform to laugh, smile, and care for each other. These traits of women helped in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic to some extent.

What is your advice to women navigating their careers during a health crisis, as well as in a post COVID-19 pandemic world?

I will advice women who are navigating their careers to: be ready and equipped with the skills and methods to work on virtual platforms, adapt behaviors of preventive strategies to minimize the chain of infection, and create their own methods and systems to balance work and life, with health as a priority.