Let’s take a moment today 8th March, International Women’s Day to celebrate how the world falls apart without women.
My son told me how he saw a video on YouTube about a family that did just that when Mom got Covid. No laundry, no dinners, no kids to bed, no clean home, no playdates, no sporting activities, no homework done, no cuddles, no fights broken up, no plasters applied, no school projects built, no birthday gifts bought. And that’s all before we think about caring for elderly parents, the full time jobs, the volunteering at local sports clubs. The list goes on.
The Hidden Labour that women perform daily and without thinking was highlighted with the extra pressure Covid Lockdowns brought. And whist I appreciate that the world has moved on to deal with the latest emergency brought about by a megalomaniacal dictator, who incidentally is a man, I want to just remind everyone about how stoic, persistent and courageous women in particular have been this last couple of years getting our families through the pandemic.
At first pandemic lockdowns were seen as providing the solution so many working women needed - flexible working. But that quickly turned out not to be the silver bullet. It merely meant doing all your tasks - the full time job and the family, kids and everything else all at the one time.
Not to mention that expectations of employers did not change as many people struggled with the reality of additional caregiving and domestic duties with school and childcare facility closures. Targets became harder to achieve. Deadlines were slipping. Careers were negatively affected. It inevitably meant women were the ones asking employers for changes in their working patterns. They simply couldn’t do everything all at once.
Furlough and unemployment
And let’s not forget it was women who bore the brunt of job losses also during this time as they were employed part time, or in service industries. So on top of everything loss of economic freedom disproportionately affected women.
But why did it impact more on women than on men?
The caregiver vs the corporation
For decades it has been seen as a woman’s responsibility to be the caregiver in the family, be it for children or reliant family members. So flexible working has been seen as a woman’s issue, a mother’s issue. Women were often perceived as not being “all in” when it came to dedication to the corporation. Indeed I have seen people being squeezed out of organisations for just this reason - they had to go home to care for their children!
The value of caring in our culture
But I believe the issue is far greater - why is the role of caregiver not given more priority in our western culture and society at large. Why is achieving success in life to do with career status and economics? Why in our hugely expensive childcare facilities are the actual caregivers (who are mostly women) paid just the minimum wage or just above? Why are carers of the elderly or sick so poorly rewarded and acknowledged? Why is the role of a stay at home Mum so easily dismissed? Why don’t we value caring on a societal level?
Steps to improve our status
I’m no expert but I do believe there are things that can be done to address this totally unlevel playing field.
- Ensure more female policy makers, economic thinkers and political leaders.
- Change workplace conditions, culture, and policies to support workers’ caregiving – and mandate those changes in national legislation.
- Media & entertainment should convey an even distribution of caregiving duties amongst gender to normalise the balance in a relatable social setting.
- Promote an ethic of male care across education and all touchpoint with younger people.
- Provide state subsidised childcare.
- Enforce the 37 hour working week - the Danes leave work at 4 and achieve a highly efficient working week. They take pride in their work but do not feel the need to demonstrate their dedication by working long hours. The French don’t work after hours believing totally in work life balance.
These are all possible measures so let’s try and carve out a bit more time to compel policymakers to make this happen.
So this International Woman’s Day I want to applaud all the women that have proven their resilience and battled through the last few years of this relentless multitasking.
And say I stand with you in our charge for a more equal society.