Why women should be at the heart of a covid recovery
On Monday we celebrated International Women’s Day.
On Tuesday we witnessed an onslaught of abuse hurled at Meghan Markle following her interview in which she described feeling suicidal whilst a part of the royal family. On Wednesday we heard that Sarah Everard’s body was found a week after she went missing whilst walking home from a friend’s house. On Thursday we saw new YouGov data that said that 97% of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. Nearly all.
This year, during the week of International Women’s Day, it was difficult to celebrate. This past year has highlighted how far we have to go in the fight for equality.
Whilst the pandemic has been hard for most, it has not had an equal impact on everyone. Data has shown that covid has had a disproportionate impact depending on a number of factors, including ethnicity, socio-economic background, and age.
We also know that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women in comparison to men.
Housework, organisation and caring responsibilities have long been unequal, we know this, we have terms for this. Women work the ‘double shift’ and tend to be the ones carrying the ‘mental load’; generally even women who work full time just like their partners still carry out the majority of the housework and childcare, and act as the household manager – remembering shopping lists, keeping track of children’s activities, allocating chores.
Research from UN Women indicates that during the pandemic this has intensified.
Chwarae Teg report that in the UK women are spending double the amount of time as men on homeschooling, and that additional caring responsibilities, such as shopping for vulnerable shielding adults, have also been carried out mostly by women.
In fact, research from the Women’s Equality Network suggests that in Wales, women have been almost twice as likely as men to take unpaid time off work for childcare during covid.
Perhaps this plays a role in the disproportionate effects the pandemic has had on women’s mental health.
Women have been more likely to see their mental health decline during the pandemic - according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the percentage of young women reporting a serious mental health issue has increased from 18% to 35%.
Women have also been at a higher risk of unemployment and a higher risk of catching covid. Women, along with BAME people, are disproportionately represented both in sectors which have shut down as well as in key worker roles.
Data from the Welsh Government shows that 92,500 women in Wales were furloughed as of January 2021 compared to 85,400 men, and data from the Women’s Budget Group suggests that women make up 78% of the health, social care and social work workforce in the UK – those roles on the front line of the pandemic.
It is often said “we’re not in the same boat, we’re in the same storm,” which sums up the equalities challenges.
It’s vital this is considered when planning our next steps after the pandemic.
The Welsh Government’s focus in terms of covid recovery should not only be to raise women and other disadvantaged groups up to an equal footing, but to have women at the centre of recovery.
The Senedd’s Equality Committee has emphasised the need for a recovery to target those who have lost the most, and for it to rectify existing inequalities. In order to do this, the distinct lack of intersectional data available to the Welsh Government also has to rectified. In order to target support, the Welsh Government has to understand where it’s needed most.
All women are also not in the same boat; black women, migrant women, disabled women, trans women, working class women & mothers for example face notably different challenges – an intersectional approach is essential to ensure an appropriate recovery plan that reaches everyone.
The Welsh Government must also take a care focused approach.
As Chwarae Teg outline in their ‘Feminist Economic Recovery Plan’, a commitment to such a plan recognises that “the survival and reproduction of people and society as a whole requires not only the production of material goods, but everything that people need to grow and flourish, including the provision of care.”
A National Care Service as part of a recovery plan, as championed by Plaid Cymru, would provide workers who are predominantly women with better pay and proper working conditions.
A recovery plan must also recognise the importance of other roles that are dominated by women, such as cleaning, catering and retail. This pandemic has highlighted that these low paid jobs are essential, and workers need to receive a proper living wage.
It would be easy to be discouraged by the backward steps our society has taken during the pandemic in the fight for gender equality, but it has exposed its weaknesses that can be put right. By targeting and specifically tackling the cracks that the pandemic has exposed we can make a recovery that works for everyone.