Women shoulder most of the extra work because of covid-19

09Apr 2020
The Guardian
Women shoulder most of the extra work because of covid-19

In the spirit of solidarity this pandemic demands of us, we need to find ways to give women a break

By Rachel Thomas

We need to talk about the extra work women are shouldering because of COVID-19.

Millions of Americans are adjusting to our new norm. We’re turning our homes into schoolhouses. We’re stockpiling supplies. We’re trying to make sure our kids feel safe and supported.

If human behavior tells us anything, it’s that Mom is handling most of this work. 

That was the case pre-pandemic. In the 2019 Women in the Workplace report, 40 percent of women said they do all or most of the childcare and housework for their families. Just 12 percent of men said the same. This disparity holds true globally. According to a survey OECD conducted in 20 countries, women do an average of 173 minutes of housework each day, compared to just 71 minutes for men. Meanwhile, one in eight women worldwide are single mothers. Everything’s on their shoulders. 

That’s how the table was set before the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was business as usual. Now the burdens on women are even heavier. According to new research by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, 77% of mothers have taken on more household work since the pandemic started. And that doesn’t count all the emotional labor women tend to do – like checking in on older relatives.

The result is a non-stop, high-stakes juggling act. We’re carefully standing apart from other shoppers at the grocery store while fielding calls from our boss, then rushing home to disinfect surfaces and make sure our kids aren’t bored out of their minds. As one woman I know put 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?!” 

This is nothing compared to what healthcare workers and other people on the frontlines are going through – many of whom have kids at home. And it’s nothing compared to people who have to work sick because they don’t have another option, or the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or are about to. 

Still, it’s a lot. If COVID-19 takes months to get under control, women won’t be able to keep this up. In the spirit of solidarity this pandemic demands of us, we need to find ways to give women a break. 

Employers, please internalize that most women are not just working a double shift, but a double double shift right now. Even in normal times, America’s work culture can be over the top. In these abnormal times, we need to switch from “get it done” to “do what you can.” Consider dropping hard deadlines – projects can keep moving forward without them. Take the time to learn what the people on your teams are dealing with. Are they taking care of kids or parents full time? Do they have the ability to work uninterrupted at home? Find out – then do what you can to work with their specific situation.

This is the time for as much compassion and grace as possible. Those aren’t words we often use to describe employers, and this is an opportunity to change that.

And men, be clear-eyed about how many hours you and your partner spend on everything that goes into running your home right now. Lots of you are stepping up to do more household labor and childcare. Still, cognitive biases will persist. If you go from doing 20 percent of the housework to doing 30 percent, you may feel like you’re doing a ton – when you’re still doing less than half. 

This emergency is reshaping our lives in ways we don’t fully understand. If we’re not careful, we will burden women with more than they can possibly do. That will leave a whole lot of women burnt out when this pandemic is finally controlled. But if we rise to the occasion, we may change our workplaces and households for the better – and for good. 

Meanwhile, Mauricio Angelo reports that

As the new coronavirus reaches into Brazil's indigenous communities for the first time, one village trying to protect itself in the Amazon rainforest has achieved a rare victory: getting illegal gold miners to agree to leave, indefinitely.

Kayapo leaders from Turedjam village negotiated with more than 30 prospectors, who all agreed to stop operations and remove their equipment over the course of last week, with no solid date on when - or if - they will return.

The move could help slow the country's dizzying deforestation rate if other indigenous groups try to follow suit, environmentalists say.

For the approximately 400 indigenous people living in Turedjam, in Brazil's northern state of Para, the decision was a matter of life and death.

"We no longer want the prospectors to circulate through the villages. They agreed to leave," Takatkyx Kayapo, one of the community leaders who negotiated with the miners, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Brazil has more than 11,000 reported novel coronavirus cases and more than 400 deaths. The first case among indigenous communities was confirmed on April 1.

Health experts warn that the spreading virus could be lethal for Brazil's estimated 900,000 indigenous people, who have been decimated for centuries by diseases brought by Europeans, from smallpox and malaria to the flu.

With mining paused in Turedjam, so is the relentless tree felling that miners engage in to clear the land for digging, locals say.

Deforestation is a chronic problem in Brazil, home to roughly 60% of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, which absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

With an estimated population of more than 4,500, the Kayapo are one of the communities most affected by deforestation at the hands of wildcat miners, according to villagers and indigenous rights activists.

From 2016 to 2019, gold mining operations on Kayapo indigenous land in Para led to the felling of more than twice as many trees as during the previous 35 years, according to government figures.

In total, more than 8,200 hectares (20,300 acres) of forest have been destroyed by small-scale miners - or garimpos - in the state since 1980.

Villagers in Turedjam said that at the peak of mining activity in the area up to 70 bulldozers could be seen digging up their land at any one time.

Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has vowed to assimilate indigenous people into Brazilian society and raise their standard of living by allowing mining and commercial agriculture on their reservations.