Even before COVID-19, women were playing on an uneven field on the global scale, but the pandemic has made it even worse. Many studies have demonstrated that pandemic has caused a crisis in women’s mental health, and its long-term impact is still not fully recognised.
Women have been carrying a lot of the weight of the pandemic-stricken life in every corner of the world. Mothers who had to juggle work, home schooling, household responsibilities and family support; women who had to work highly stressful long shifts as frontline medical staff; add to this increased home violence, mental and emotional overload – and it’s easy to see why the pandemic has had such a detrimental effect on women worldwide.
A research by LeanIn on the pandemic’s impact on women globally has shown worrying results:
- Women had been experiencing symptoms of severe stress and burnout during the pandemic
- Women felt overwhelmed because they were responsible for a heavier workload
- The burdens of housework and caregiving have been even heavier for women of colour and single mothers
- Many female workers have not been receiving adequate support from their employers
- 80% of mothers have taken on more household work since the pandemic started. And that doesn’t count all the emotional support women tend to provide to those around them.
Throughout the pandemic women had to play a non-stop, high-stakes juggling act. As one woman described it, “I was already working harder than I thought was possible. Now I’m supposed to be a high-performing employee, a reassuring mom during a global crisis – and my kid’s teacher too?!”
Studies show that over the past year mothers have been 3 times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of their family’s housework and childcare.
What’s more, the pandemic has been a long lasting one and it’s still not clear when it will be officially over.
The global crisis has had a very strong negative effect on women’s careers worldwide. One in four women were considering downshifting their careers or leaving their jobs altogether due to Covid-19. As per the study by CARE, 55% of women said they’d experienced some sort of income loss in relation to Covid-19. This compared to 34% of men. Due to the fact that women are more likely to work part-time hours or in the informal sector, they were also found to be worse hit professionally. Mothers were more than twice as likely as fathers to worry that their work performance was being judged negatively due to their caregiving responsibilities.
While the pandemic is starting to die down in some parts of the world thanks to successful vaccination programmes, there are still a lot of uncertainties left. The “legacy” of the pandemic is said to last for many years. Its accumulated impact on mental and emotional health will take a lot of time to unwind. Now we all need to get used to getting back to normal, dealing with anxieties around being “out and about” again, coming out of the low key lifestyle that everyone has adopted and got very much used to.
The uncertainties are still there; should I have the vaccine, or not? What about its long-term impact? Will there be another lockdown and how am I going to survive it? How will my kids catch up on all the missed school time? When will I feel safe again? The questions still keep coming.
But despite all that we should also look at what the pandemic has taught us. It is our chance to build better, stronger, more resilient societies that could bring relief as well as hope to all women on earth. For example, during the First World War and the concomitant flu pandemic, for the first time in the history of the United States, black nurses had the opportunity to serve the US army. In fact, this event had been turned into an opportunity to improve gender equality.
This pandemic will also hopefully help to recognise the major role of women at home and at the workplace. As the latest lockdown unwinds, the disproportionate impact on women must be factored into policymakers’ decisions for the future. Ensuring the social security system provides an adequate income is essential for a healthy life – for everything from quality housing to buying healthy foods. Job creation schemes should focus on better quality jobs. Businesses in industries such as hospitality, which predominantly employ women, should be incentivised to keep people in work and seize the opportunity to normalise more flexible working.
The pandemic has also helped many of us to step back, take a pause and look at the bigger picture; what is making me happy in life, and what are the things that no longer serve me? Am I in the right relationship? Is my work satisfying? Am I looking after myself enough? Am I in the right place? Women (and men alike) are re-evaluating their lives and hopefully creating better foundation for the future thanks to everything that this pandemic has taught them.
Silatha is a meditation company created to empower women toward lasting mental well-being, and is raising this topic to support women in their mental health recovery post-pandemic. As part of this mission, Silatha is holding a live talk on its app with leading female wellness experts on 21 May 2021, World Meditation Day. Find out more and sign up here