The coronavirus backlash: how the pandemic is destroying women’s rights

Connecting the Dots – #YesThisIsAnArtsStory Repost from The Guardian

Gaby Hinsliff | 23 June 2020

Women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout and taking on a greater share of domestic work and childcare – while visits to the Refuge website are up 950%. Is this the biggest ever leap backward for women?

When lockdown began, Naomi initially hoped she could muddle through. She was used to working from home as a management consultant, and her boss was flexible about when the work got done. But, as a single parent to two children, seven and six, a few weeks of home schooling by day and working late into the night left her exhausted.

“I’m the school cook, cleaner and caretaker, I’m the teacher, and as well I’m trying to be the consultant after they’ve gone to bed. I realised I was going almost 24/7,” she says. So, in April, she asked to be added to her company’s furlough list; when her boss agreed, she felt nothing but relief. “I tried; I really did try. But I’m only human, and I can only be stretched so far before everything falls apart.”

Lately she has begun job-hunting, worried her position might not be waiting for her when the pandemic ends. “I can’t afford to be in that situation with two kids, because no one will be coming to our rescue; it will just be me,” says Naomi, who is acutely aware that some of her lone-parent friends are now worrying about how they are going to feed their children.

Men have paid disproportionately with their lives during this pandemic, yet it’s women who seem to be bearing the brunt of the economic fallout. Young women were hardest hit by redundancies early on, when female-dominated sectors such as retail, hotels and hairdressing salons shut overnight. Women working from home are also shouldering more of the housework and childcare than men, according to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), while the charity Carers UK estimates that around 4.5 million people have had to become unpaid carers for sick or disabled relatives during the pandemic and that the majority of them will be women. Now, the government’s decision to open non-essential shops and offices last week, despite schools and nurseries not being fully open, is trapping more parents between a rock and a hard place.

“Mothers are one and a half times as likely as fathers to have lost their job, or quit or been furloughed in this crisis,” says Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow early years minister, who notes that when something has to give in dual-income couples, it’s often the lower earner’s job. She is increasingly hearing from mothers afraid their inability to work uninterrupted at home, or return to the office, will count against them when redundancies are looming. “A very high-flying lawyer I spoke to had decided to self-isolate with her sister and her husband (for childcare), but she’s still losing three to four hours of work a day. She’s almost sure that if they decide to make cuts at the end of the pandemic, she’s in the firing line, not her male counterparts.”