This International Women’s Day has been marked with a flood of reports providing further evidence that women all over the world are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent research by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has shown that women have lost their jobs at a higher rate than men in the world’s wealthiest countries, while according to the UN, violence against women has increased globally.
The UK is no different. In a survey released on Monday by the parenting website Mumsnet, it was revealed that the majority of women with male partners in the UK are doing a larger proportion of housework, and a third said their career had been more adversely affected by the pandemic.
The poll of 1,217 women revealed that 70% of mothers with a male partner said that they had done the majority of home-schooling while UK schools have been closed; 73% said they had done all or most of the laundry during the pandemic; and 60% had done all or most of the cooking.
Almost half, 49%, said they expected gender equality to be in reverse in the next few years, the poll, reported by the Guardian, revealed.
Meanwhile 56% of the women surveyed agreed that “when it comes to women’s place in work, the home, and in society, we’re in danger of going back to the 1970s,” Mumsnet said in a press statement.
Of those with caring responsibilities, 28% say their responsibilities have affected their professional reputation during the past year and 24% are considering leaving the workforce entirely.
The findings are similar to those in a report released by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in May 2020 which found, several weeks into the UK’s first national lockdown, that women were more likely to have found their work interrupted and were doing more housework than men.
The critical point is we predicted the impact on gender equality when the pandemic first hit. Govt could have taken action to mitigate the impact. They chose not to and still choose not to. #IWD2021https://t.co/C4yboKSUEi— Sam Smethers (@Samsmethers) March 8, 2021
“This survey paints a fairly depressing picture of how gender inequality has been exacerbated during the pandemic, with women really struggling to cope,” said Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts.
“What’s needed is a proper women’s strategy, with specific policies to redress the inequality that’s been triggered by COVID,” Roberts continued. “Or we’re at real risk of heading right back to the 1970s with regard to women’s economic power.”
One of the women responding to the survey said she had spent the year being a full-time mother, employee, and teacher. “I am broken and am unable to do my best in any of the three full-time jobs I now seem to hold,” she added.
In response to the issue of increasingly worsening economic and social conditions for women, campaigners have called for the government to put in place specific policies to support gender equality.
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, a group campaigning for maternity rights, told the Guardian that women are “on the edge, and they don’t know what to do” after a year of carrying the burden at home.
The organisation opened an “SOS line” for people to leave voicemails explaining their experiences of balancing schooling, raising children, and working during the pandemic, and said they were inundated with “desperate cries for help.”
Brearley blamed the government’s “gender-blind policy-making” for how the pandemic had impacted women. “We haven’t seen the worst of it yet,” she continued. “Redundancies will come when furlough ends and it is more likely to be women who lose their jobs. Once mothers are out of the workforce it is very difficult to get them back in.”
Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, an organisation which scrutinises government economic policy from the perspective of women, gave an example of how recent UK policies haven’t helped as women leave the workforce.
“The impact of school and nursery closures have seen women leaving work or reducing hours or, if they’re self-employed, not taking on new contracts,” Stephenson said.
“At the same time, 58% of local authorities are warning of nursery closures in their area," Stephenson continued. "So even as those women might be able to get back into jobs, childcare is not going to be there — and no suggestion of help for that sector in the budget.”