Lockdown and COVID-19. Two words we are all sick to death of hearing, but what about those other words like “burnout”, “deadlines”, and “sexual harassment”? Women during this pandemic have faced more than their fair share of obstacles, none more so than those trying to work and juggle home all in the same space. So, how has lockdown affected these women and have there been any upsides to this pandemic? Let’s read on to find out more.
Although normally a place that you think of when you want to escape the hectic hustle and bustle of a hard day, lockdown turned many homes into a prison of sorts. No longer the safe haven it had been before, home became the office, school, activities centre, and doctor’s office all in one with many working women citing high levels of burnout and exhaustion in an attempt to cope with the strain.
A report by the LSE showed that, during the lockdown, women were more likely to lose their jobs than men, the hiring rate of women compared to men was lower, and that women in the 30+ age range were more likely to have additional work through household duties and caregiving.
This shows that despite the complexities of the pandemic and the great strides that have been taken in recent years, women are still at a disadvantage in regard to the workplace. They have been forced to juggle their professional responsibilities with household duties and this has led to increased unemployment gaps between men and women. After all, they cannot dedicate themselves fully to online work when there is distance learning to supervise, household duties to take care of, and perhaps an elderly parent to check in with.
Not to mention, for many women working on the front lines as doctors, nurses, and teachers, there was the additional problem of trying to find suitable childcare during the pandemic whilst also being fearful that they might unintentionally bring the virus home with them.
Pregnant women in the workforce also faced additional worries, for example, those working on the front lines as nurses, who were required to carry on despite the potential health risks. Meanwhile, others were forced to remain at home, which has isolated many from their work colleagues or caused additional worry over finances.
Careers and business opportunities
The other side of this coin is that, for many women, lockdown gave them time to consider other career avenues that they would have previously thought impossible. The rise of cottage industries and the added benefit of being able to turn a hobby into a full-time job whilst being able to spend time with family, has seen many not return to work. Mothers are more likely to consider downsizing at work or leaving the profession altogether.
This is also due to the fact that the exceptionally high cost and availability of childcare has meant that the option to return to work on a full-time basis has evaporated and left them at a dead end. Many working women have had to make the difficult decision to become stay at home wives and the primary caregivers as there is simply not enough flexibility in working conditions to allow them to carry on with their careers.
Sexual assault and harassment
It is something that all women face at some point in their lives, be that on the streets as you make your way to work, in a pub on a Saturday night, or even in the home. With the lockdown seeing the entire world trapped in their houses, there was some surprising information regarding women’s safety and gender-based violence. The lockdown has meant that, with the closure of pubs, nightclubs, and other public spaces, the usual hunting grounds were closed to sexual predators, but that does not mean that sexual assaults or harassment simply ceased to exist, rather they have simply adapted to the pandemic.
In Ireland, whilst there was a decline in sexual assaults and harassment in cases where the victim did not know the attacker or had met them that same day, there was a significant increase in attacks on women from men within their circle, such as a friend, housemate, neighbour, work colleague, intimate partner, and even ex-intimate partner.
This shows that sexual assaults and harassment are not confined to simply those spaces where people are consuming alcohol and mingling with strangers. Rather, there was a significant increase in attacks occurring in the home of the victim or the assailant, with the Cork SATU reporting that the number of attacks occurring in 2020 rose to 47% in comparison to 28% in 2019.
In New Zealand, the figures for sexual assault fell to 336 incidents occurring in April 2020 but rose sharply afterwards, with 678 incidents occurring in November of that same year. Domestic violence for women in Ireland has also reached new levels with an increase of 25% in the number of calls being made to helplines in 2020 alone.
One of the reasons for this could be that the lockdown has caused additional financial tensions within the home and, with workplaces shut, many women are unable to use work as an excuse to leave the home or as an opportunity to seek help. The lockdown has isolated many victims from their friends and families, and so this worrying trend is set to continue.
Sexual harassment in the workplace added additional pressure to working women during the lockdown. Although there was the benefit of working from home, which curbed some of this unsavoury behaviour, for many women, zoom calls and meetings have become just another avenue for those harassers. For working women, it is often unavoidable that they will have to attend online meetings where they are showing their homes or bedrooms in the background, which, in some cases, can make the harassment worse or more intrusive.
There have been reports of female workers being harassed through emails and messages by other colleagues, being asked inappropriate questions, or having comments made about their appearance, whilst some have even been solicited or offered sexual images by colleagues.
The future for working women after lockdown
Overall the lockdown has tested everyone all over the world, but it would be fair to say that women have borne the brunt of this pandemic and that, if companies and society do not start listening and protecting those women in need, we as a society are facing serious problems in the future. For those lucky enough to have had a positive experience during this pandemic, the lockdown has unfortunately revealed many existing problems both at home and in the workplace. Perhaps in the near future things will improve both financially and socially for these women.
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