Women more disproportionately affected by COVID-19 pandemic due to increased ‘unpaid’ work at home

Women more disproportionately affected by COVID-19 pandemic due to increased ‘unpaid’ work at home

The COVID-19 pandemic has doubled women’s burdens as Singapore’s circuit breaker has forced them to juggle their professions and their family lives, the latest research from Singapore Management University (SMU) revealed.

Women, even when holding higher-paying jobs, are seen as responsible for shouldering unpaid work, which includes monitoring their children’s homework, preparing meals for the family and making sure the home is clean. Men, on the other hand, are able to focus wholly on their careers as they are considered to be responsible only for paid work.

“Extreme situations, like Covid-19, really function as a lens that amplifies everyday processes. What the pandemic and the measures like the circuit breaker have done is illuminate the extremely unequal division of housework between men and women with children,” said Singapore Management University (SMU) sociologist Aliya Rao on Tuesday (17 June).

Working from home during the circuit breaker, she said, has meant that mothers, in particular, are “juggling with managing childcare and home-schooling while being expected to put in pretty much full days at work”.

The circuit breaker has forced many in Singapore to work from home following the temporary closure of offices in most sectors, except for those working in key sectors such as media, IT, healthcare and logistics, to name a few.

Women spend four to 11 times more on domestic labour than men do daily in Asia-Pacific countries

The International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed that women in the Asia-Pacific region spend 4.1 hours more on unpaid work such as cleaning, cooking and taking care of their families during the COVID-19 pandemic than men do on a regular day.

In some countries, women have to even allocate 11 times more hours than men doing such tasks. Such ‘invisible’ work accounts for at least US$ 10.8 trillion a year of the global economy, according to UN Women Asia and the Pacific.

Asst Prof Aliya noted that there is evidence that some women may even decide to quit their jobs to focus on their childcare.

The heavily skewed gender dynamics in terms of unpaid labour at home, she said, should serve as “a key moment” to “introduce structures and measures to provide support for care work in particular”.

“Care work is indispensable and it is gendered. It pushes women out of the labour forces across all social classes, but those with lower levels of education are particularly vulnerable,” said Asst Prof Aliya.

Social policies such as affordable and widespread daycare and paid parental leave with provisions for both mothers and fathers — similar to those implemented in Scandinavian countries — should be put in place to spark changes in gender inequality in terms of such work, she posited.

Emerging Stronger Taskforce should include more female representatives

Singapore’s Emerging Stronger Taskforce — set up by the government to boost Singapore’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic — should include more women representatives, given that women are among the most vulnerable groups to the pandemic as well as others such as people with disability, small and medium enterprises (SME).

The taskforce only has two female members out of 15 business leaders, casting doubts over whether the task force can handle pressing issues faced by women during the pandemic, ranging from unemployment to domestic violence.

Citing a recent UN report, Workers’ Party chair Sylvia Lim highlighted in Parliament earlier this month that “there has been significant employment loss for women who hold the majority of insecure, informal and lower-paying jobs”, on top of increasing unpaid work.

“The global health workforce is estimated to comprise 67 per cent women, with many women in roles most exposed to the virus.”

Women academicians, added Ms Lim, are also disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as they are “bearing the brunt” of family care responsibilities.

There is growing evidence that female academicians are publishing less than their male counterparts, which “would clearly impact their careers where publications are a key performance indicator,” she warned.

“One of the UN’s key recommendations is to ensure women’s equal representation in all COVID-19 response planning and decision making. There is a need to study gender-aggregated data in all fields, from public health to economics to communications,” Ms Lim urged, adding that successful COVID-19 responses in New Zealand and Taiwan involved female representatives.

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