LOCKING DOWN GENDER EQUALITY?
Young women end up carrying the bulk of the burden of COVID-19 lockdowns by doing more unpaid care work when public services are less accessible. This was clearly visible during recent COVID-19 lockdowns, new research show. Let lockdowns remind us of how important investments in public services are in creating gender equality.
WRITTEN BY MOHAMMAD HANIF AND GUDRUN GADEGAARD PEDERSEN
COVID-19 has indeed altered the lives of many women and men worldwide. We have become teachers, nurses, cooks, and caregivers around the clock with a multiplied workload due to lockdown and failing public services. This has not only affected parents and adults, but also youth. Daughters and sons are needed for care and domestic tasks at home, but the burden is unequally divided. Recent research conducted by UN Women in the Asia-Pacific region shows that 63% of women have seen increases in unpaid domestic work1.
The gendered difference is striking, when looking at the intensity: In Bangladesh, 51% of women doing at least 3 daily activities say their time allocated to unpaid care work increased since the spread of COVID-19, whereas only 31% of men. For domestic work, it goes for 29% of women, and just 9% of Bangladeshi male respondents2.
Youth inspirator Mohammad Hanif explains how the lockdown affected girls and women in Bangladesh: "Normally, girls and young women would go to school or college, or some would work, but with the lockdown, everyone stayed in their homes,’ he explains. ‘When they stay at home, they spend more time doing household work. Fathers and boys don’t work much in the home, so the responsibility go to the girls. Many women and girls work from dawn to night and can’t concentrate on their education or career anymore."
Young women and girls have taken on a substantial share of unpaid care and domestic work after the outbreak of COVID-19, data from the UN study shows: 67% of parents noted their daughters help more, while 57% noted their sons help more. If parents are employed, the gender difference is bigger. The study shows that 70% of daughters help their employed parents more, whereas 58% of sons3.
Importantly, the increase in domestic and care work goes on top of the hours women already spend. The workload was already haeavy on women’s shoulders before the COVID-19 crisis. According to the latest data – before the crisis – women in Bangladesh spend 3.8 times the number of hours on unpaid care work that men do4. In 2017, ActionAid Bangladesh conducted a time use survey which found that women spent, on average, eight hours a day on unpaid care work. Men spend around an hour and a half daily. On the other hand, women spend around an hour a day in paid work while men spend five hours in work they are paid for5.
Traditional gender roles continue to form gendered expectations to young women and men in Bangladesh, Hanif explains: "Girls spend more time on unpaid care work than boys. Gender roles create this division. In our families, we learn from early childhood that a boy can do this, and girls will do that. Boys are not allowed to go to the kitchen, and they are not allowed to wash their clothes. So, women must do all this, and girls are told this from the very childhood. When you are a girl, you must help your mother, and a boy must help his father."
Let the lockdown serve as a stark reminder of what may happen when public services are shut down. It never affects everyone equally. Women and girls are the first to experience the negative impact of cut downs in public services, and a reinforcement of traditional gender roles. Conversely, the good news is that expanding public services can a substantial change in time women spend on unpaid care and domestic work, especially if gender responsive services such as health, education and infrastructure are prioritized. Securing financing of education, health and infrastructure and the immediate access to these services for especially women and girls must be a top priority under as well as after the COVID-19 crisis.
MOHAMMAD HANIF is from Bangladesh and graduated in fine arts and educational leadership. Hanif is working as an inspirator under the A4I project (action for Impact) in ActionAid Bangladesh on access to quality youth and gender-responsive public services. He was previously an Activista volunteer since 2011, and currently supporting two local A4I partners in Dhaka and Bagerhat.
GUDRUN GADEGAARD PEDERSEN is a Youth Data Analist and part of the Youth Data and Policy team of ActionAid Denmark to document the impact on youth from the Covid-19 crisis.