By Purna Roy Choudhury – Program Manager
A pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities. COVID 19 has left no exception in proving this yet again. We are not just living through a public-health crisis, but an all-encompassing one that has had far-reaching impacts on the economic-social-psychological wellbeing of people across the world, especially among women.
This article focuses on some of the challenges faced by the urban, middle class working women, in the context where the current pandemic has amplified the double-burden of women’s economic labour and their unpaid care work.
The school closures have kept women occupied as full-time child care providers, taking charge of their health, educational, nutritional and recreational needs. With most of the middle-class households choosing to suspend paid domestic work during this pandemic, the women of these households are caught in the loop of invisible care work and endless household chores.
As the workplace enters the home in this ‘new normal’, does it have similar implications for men and women? In these unprecedented times men are left uncontested in being the primary ‘bread-earner’. This has increased the double-burden on women and has resulted in the drastic fall in women’s participation in labour force, either in the form of reduced hours or complete withdrawal from paid labour. The situation has regressed to a point where women are once again left economically dependent, and are compromised in their decision making.
With the home isolation, women are now confined in the closest proximity of their existing abusers or potential ones. Women, in abusive intimate relationship, often reach out for help and support from their family members, friends or colleagues. The lockdown has debilitated this support system for many such women.
Though the pandemic itself is not gendered yet it has reinstated the historical, social and cultural framework of gendered roles within many middle-class households. Despite these challenges, women have once again proved to be resilient, adaptable and resourceful. Women have created opportunities and facilitated changes even in these times. They have successfully devised smart and inclusive techniques to negotiate their ways through a new work life balance. Below are some real-life testimonials of women, who have responded to the challenges efficiently during this pandemic.
“What worked really well was getting my 15-year-old boy into helping in simple, yet unconventional, household chores; like laundry, prepping for cooking, making bed and breakfast, etc. In these four months these tasks have become a habit. So, it is not like giving me a helping hand anymore. My son now feels that these tasks are his responsibility as well.”
“I learned to work in a staggered style, without affecting my daily productivity at home-front and in office work. In fact, this way of working gives me ample breathing space for either kind of work, and takes away the monotony.”
“The biggest challenge has been in giving up the freedom of movement, especially for my little one. Keeping ourselves entertained has been an important agenda for us to maintain our sanity. We have re-discovered the joy of board games. In these four months my ten-year-old has never prioritised them over screen time. It is amazing how much these board games contribute to concentration, strategic thinking, enhancing vocabulary, improving communication, decision making and creativity.”
“My biggest achievement during this lockdown has been honing my ability to let go and delegate. I have learnt to detach my sense of identity with my house-hold engagements. I learnt that it is okay for me to say that ‘I Can’t’ or ‘I don’t have the time or ‘please help’ or ‘please do your bit’! It was difficult at first, but then I was taken by surprise that even in a span of four months I was not just able to let go, but also accept someone else to slip into my shoes that I wore for so long. Magically things got done, and I had free time to myself!”
“We, women, often do not recognise and acknowledge our individual resilience and existing solidarity as a collective. Through this pandemic, I have been reaching out to my friends through virtual calls. I feel ever so grateful for the support that I have, and I am also humbled by the realization that I am not alone in this situation.”
“The efficiency of work-life balance also comes from drawing little pleasures in simple things. It is unfortunate that it took us a pandemic of this order to make us realise this. I have started doing things for myself and taking care of myself, without any guilt.”
“It is interesting how each member of my household has been able to create an exclusive space for herself/himself. Even in the middle of an occasional mayhem, we have our own little corner to go to and immerse in our individual pursuits. Here is my little corner.”
I would conclude by saying that this pandemic has come with an opportunity. At the macro level it is an opportunity for the state and the policy makers to make the ‘invisible’ work of the women in households ‘visible’ and recognised as productive labour. This is also an opportunity for each of us to challenge and redefine the gendered roles within our own households. It is time to define this ‘new normal’ and set a precedence for the generations to come.