While it’s been five months since the lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country, India has continued to rise in the ranking of affected countries and stands second now. The pandemic, spread by the virus which has been named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease called COVID-19, has adverse implications on the state and lives of people.
Lockdown has put new forms of pressure on parents across the globe, with children staying at home and needing to be entertained or educated. However, a pattern observed from studies conducted in numerous countries has shown a disproportionate impact of the lockdown on working women in comparison to that on the men.
To gauge the depth and pervasiveness of this disproportionality, it is important to keep in mind and understand the reasons behind the gender inequality prevalent in household chores and work-family conflict. Unequal involvement of men and women in household chores can be attributed to traditional gender roles. Numerous gender studies have also shown that traditional gender roles still affect the way men and women manage work and family interaction. Thus, even before the onset of Covid-19, many working mothers were already experiencing conflicts between their work and home roles due to the limitations of time and completing behavioural expectations. Women have been juggling between such conflicts ever since they’ve started working and such conflicts were inadvertently also affecting their physical and mental well-being.
However, the initiation of lockdown across the globe has increased the intensity of such conflicts for women. The contrasting demarcation between office hours and home hours has diminished. Thereby, women are now juggling between their work and domestic tasks throughout the day, without getting enough time to take a breather.
Now, that their children are home throughout the day, mothers’ time devoted to child care has increased substantially. They now have to keep constant attention on their child’s online classes and assignments, and even home-school their children. They have to keep their children engaged, who themselves are being affected by the lockdown. They also have to prepare food while working. They might also be dealing with some forms of guilt or stress that may come with not doing any of those things particularly well. Another basis for the guilt that they might experience includes feeling that their busy jobs are keeping them away from their children and making them unable to spend quality time with their kids. Such family requirements and guilt can also affect working mothers’ job performance and satisfaction.
According to surveys conducted in several countries, many full-time mothers have attributed their primary cause of stress as child care, followed by worries around the mental health and well-being of family members.
Children also require more attention these days, because the need for their sanitary care monitoring has increased with the presence of the novel coronavirus.
Some countries have also recorded that women with children are more likely to have lost their job during the lockdown period. Instances like these can have long-lasting effects on working mothers’ future job prospects.
Such situations have adverse effects on working mothers’ mental health. The mental distress resulting from the constant shifts between office-related tasks to home-related tasks can be detrimental. Women can also experience increased stress, anxiety and might even develop symptoms of depression or other mental issues. Having a never-ending work-day, and bearing the mental load of the whole household can cause burn-out among them.
Working mothers and their families should be aware of the disproportionate burden they bear, and try to adjust their standards and expectations, spell out household duties clearly to all members, streamline routines, and set priorities to ease their pressure.
The pandemic has exposed a lot of fault lines in modern society including the one that runs across the work and home domains, exposing the stark imbalance in gender roles which is prevalent even in this day and age. It’s high time for our society to acknowledge this disparity, and for people to engage in discussions and problem-solving to bring about gender equality.