COVID-19 and the great gender divide
It’s no secret that women have always picked up the bulk of domestic work and childcare, regardless of whether they also have paid jobs.
Although progress has been slow, recently it has felt like the unequal distribution of the mental and physical work required to keep a household running, has started to be acknowledged, if not yet addressed.
Then along came a spider in the form of COVID-19, and the efforts of so many are seemingly in danger of being erased altogether.
The pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls
Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “COVID-19 could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights”.
Sadly when looking at the data – and our lived experiences – it’s easy to see that he’s not wrong.
Same storm, different boat
Globally, the impact of any crisis – be it war, disease, famine or environmental – has never been gender-neutral. COVID-19 has proved to be no different; women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout and the long-term implication of this could be catastrophic.
A recently released report by the UN shows that the pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. This will bring the total number of women and girls living on USD 1.90 or less, to 435 million.
Here in the UK, like the rest of the world, we already know that women earn less than men. The two sectors hit hardest by the pandemic – retail and hospitality – are largely dominated by women.
This perfect storm of redundancy and gender-based expectations means experts are predicting that 50 years of progress will be erased unless serious action is taken by our government.
Can we flex our way out of this?
A recent Guardian article states:
‘The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education found this week that mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit, and 14% were more likely to have been furloughed since the start of the crisis.’
Now that children are mostly – if not sporadically – back to school, surely a little flexibility will help Mums return to work, right?
Well, yes and no.
Data from the Resolution Foundation shows that only 1 in 10 lower earners can work from home, and 69% of low earners are women. It turns out, flexible working is not the cure-all some would like to believe it is. So, what can we do to protect our futures and stop us from being dragged back to the 1950s?
“Hope is so important” – Helen Pankhurst
I would be misleading you if I said I wasn’t worried and didn’t, at times, feel hopeless at the situation. But then I remember something important; progress is not measured in months, or years, or even decades, it’s measured in centuries.
Women have been fighting tooth and nail for equal rights since the Romans. History shows that with enough grit and determination, the disasters which often look set to be our undoing, can actually be turned to our advantage.
Take the fight for women’s suffrage; some thought the First World War would silence the movement for good. But after women kept the country running whilst the men were off fighting, the vote could no longer be denied to them (if you were white, married and of a certain social standing of course).
only 1 in 10 lower earners can work from home
I know we’re all exhausted; regardless of how you have personally been impacted by COVID-19, 2020 has left a mark on every one of us. But if there’s one unwavering belief I hold, it’s that women possess an unmatched inner strength and determination, and it truly awakens when tested.
Irrespective of your situation, there are things you can do to help build back not just better, but equal.
What can we do?
Email, call and write to your local MP to ask how they will be supporting women in the economic recovery.
Get involved with organisations who are focused on women’s rights – the Women’s Equality Party and the Fawcett Society are good places to start.
If you are a business owner, think of how you can support the women who work for you.
Where possible, look to support small women-owned businesses.
Start or sign petitions to highlight inequalities you face or see.
Reach out to the women in your life and support each other – you’ll be surprised at how the seemingly little things can have a huge impact.
‘They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds’ – Mexican Proverb
As 2020 draws to a close, I won’t lie about things feeling a little on the bleak side, but I mean it when I say we can turn this chaos into something good.
Women have, after all, been cleaning up other people’s messes and making good for centuries, and we will do it again. Only this time, we have access to a wealth of information, a huge network of likeminded people and most importantly, an understanding of our worth!
Still unsure what feminism is really all about? Jodie is sharing her biggest revelation, here.
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