The world we are living in now has become a peculiar and turbulent space to live in with the outbreak of corona and the sudden transformation it has brought about in our daily lives. The concept of lockdown and social distancing has changed everything that we never ever thought would become our everyday norm. We never knew that we would be bound within the four walls for such a long period of time and conduct our daily routine in the form of teleworking, online grocery shopping, online health consultations with the doctors, conducting zoom meetings, taking online classes and exams and so on. Even the most optimistic people are getting mentally drained with this unsettling situation. A little ray of hope has also been subsided considering increasing new corona cases every day and some already said to be cured patients retracting the virus again. This has brought about huge fear and uncertainty in our lives as to when the things will get normalized and when we will be back to doing the things that we used to do before the virus came into existence. All of us are disturbed with the consequences brought in by this health pandemic, but amongst all mothers are being hugely affected.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally, women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, which is three times more than what men do. As women already do three times more unpaid care work compared to men, now additional caring for family and elderly relatives with the coronavirus, taking extra care of children due to schools shut down and doing their own work as well from home has multiplied the burden. In every household, especially in the South Asian countries, women are in charge of taking care of the house and performing tasks such as cleaning, cooking and feeding the family, washing, shopping, taking care of children and so on. With the existing corona pandemic, their responsibilities have further unjustifiably increased as compared to their partners which had led to the escalated domestic gender gap.
Women are facing additional mental stress with regard to difficulty in juggling between the office work from home as well as taking care of the house chores. Their all-day office work from a computer, additional works like extra cleaning and disinfecting the house amidst corona along with handling the kids' frustration of not understanding the mathematics calculations and physics theories taught online by their teachers has taken a toll on women's mental health. There is clearly no separation between work life and home life for women during the lockdown which has given them added frustrations. Women, for example with the teaching profession, have triple duty on their shoulders now which include teaching students online, taking care of their own children at home and managing the household starting from cooking, cleaning to grocery shopping. They have countless details to keep check with which is quite burdensome for them during this health crisis. Women who are in the healthcare sectors like doctors, nurses and health assistants have the kind of stress which is beyond imagination. Extremely long hours at the workplace and coming back to the home to do other household responsibilities is quite a task. This doesn't allow them to have a proper rest which naturally affects their mental health. Further, in the corona health crisis, they have the additional fear of being contracted with the virus while working in the hospital and contracting their children and other family members when they return back from work which adds to their mental stress.
In South Asian countries like Nepal and India, women and men have socially constructed roles which categorize women being the domestic caregiver. This patriarchal norm has become more evident during the lockdown resulted from the corona pandemic. There is a disproportionate sharing of household works between males and females in the house, particularly the father and the mother. In many households even today, grandparents take care of children if parents are busy with other works in the house. But amidst this health pandemic, grandparents are compelled to maintain distance from childcare due to the risk of old age people being exposed to the virus. In such a case, the childcare duties solely remain to the parents, particularly mothers. Even the ones who can afford nannies for the children are compelled to discourage them from visiting the house as there is a high risk of getting exposure to the virus to other members of the family.
Single parents are facing even greater challenges. Taking the example of the United States, according to the US Census Bureau 2019, 19 million children live with single parents and amongst them, 70 percent are single mothers. In such a case, women single headedly take the responsibility of both father and mother which becomes very challenging for them. In the health pandemic like corona, this becomes even more nerve-racking. In the United States, many people are losing their jobs during this health crisis and some do not have access to paid leave from their employers. In such a case, single mothers are facing high stress in taking care of the children and households alone and also the economic crisis gives them additional apprehension about the future of themselves and their children.
Violence against women is another problem which has increased more in number during the pandemic as there is restrictions in movement and women are confined in their houses with their violent partners. Increasing isolation and not having access to their close family and friends who could best help them is leading to women facing more violence during the lockdown. According to a study by Princeton University, in middle-east countries like Morocco, Yemen and Egypt, at least one-quarter of married women population have told that they have been abused physically by their husbands at any given point in their lives. The existing coronavirus pandemic has given more fuel to domestic violence in such countries. For women in these countries, more time in the house with their partners means more violence in the house. In cases of mental and physical violence during the pandemic, even though women want to contact and ask for help from the women shelters and civil society organizations they find it impossible to have access to these as everything is under locked down to prevent the spread of the virus. Violence doesn't just affect the mental health of women but has a negative effect on their children as well who are confined in the house in such an unfavorable environment.
Coronavirus pandemic has been affecting different people in different ways but amongst all women, particularly mothers are hugely affected. The impact that these groups of women are having is disproportionate to how their male counterparts are being affected. Gender biases has been more evident during the crisis than before. With the easing down of lockdown, everyone is hoping that this situation changes. But then we cannot ignore the fact that even though the lockdown is made flexible, corona cases aren't subsiding, rather increasing every day hence the main problem still remains.
The author is the alumna of Gender and Development Studies at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand.