2020 and the Covid19 pandemic has proven yet again that you do not know what you do not know. At the beginning of this year, we were faced by a virus that we knew very little about. In the past 10 months, we have learned a lot about its transmission, symptoms, treatment and outcomes. But early decisions were made based on few facts and gloomy predictions.
In the same way, none of us could fully comprehend the effect of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns on all aspects of our society. Social behaviour and consumer patterns have changed. Many companies have moved their workspaces to virtual platforms. Education and learning have come to a halt, and are now continuing in a very different manner. Many of these changes may become permanent, a new normal.
No group have felt the pressure piling more than our readers – mothers of small children. And now preliminary studies are sounding the alarm that the pandemic is reversing years of progress in the promotion of gender equality in the workplace.
An article posted in the New York Times reports that women will pay the largest career penalties in this challenging time. Of course, this is nothing new.
Although women and men are starting on similar salaries straight after graduating, this changes quickly, and by the time that they are in their 40’s, women typically work for lower salaries in lower-ranking positions than men. This sounds very negative, but it is in fact caused by a simple biological fact – we got the uterus!
Yip, this workplace inequality draws back directly to the fact that women need to make career choices that allows them to be pregnant and raise children. The need for more flexible working hours comes at a very high price career-wise.
The only thing that allows mothers to work at all is childcare. There are very few jobs that you can do without someone caring for your kids. This can be provided by a grandmother or family member, a nanny or a daycare centre or school. And Covid19 has brought all of the above to a halt. Even with lockdown restrictions lifting and schools opening again, many mothers are scared to send little ones back, thereby exposing them to the virus.
We also know that, even though fathers are far more involved in both housework and childcare than they were a few decades ago, the main burden of these still fall on mothers. This makes it even more difficult for moms to balance workplace demands with parenting duties.
Lastly, add a nice dash of (oh joy!) homeschooling, and most mothers are ready to run away from home and go live on the streets!
All jokes set aside, reports are showing that proportionally more women have lost jobs due to the pandemic. We also know that more women work in the sectors hit hardest, including retail and the entertainment industry. It is reckoned that it may take years to recover the ground lost in a decade-long battle to give women the same opportunities and recognition (that they deserve) in the workplace environment.
What can one say? Perhaps just this – that through centuries women have been the backbone of society. That these inequalities aren’t new. That women are emotionally stronger and more resilient than men. Raising children is both the most rewarding and the most thankless job there is. You may not get the recognition you deserve, but you are doing the most important job on earth (raising our next generation, shaping the future of humankind), and we honour you for this. Hang in there mama; this, too, shall pass.