For Dr. Sophia Papastavrou, gender technical specialist at World Vision Canada, the pandemic has taken a toll on women, on their ability to stay employed, and on their mental health.
“We had a large number of women on the Covid frontline. We had 49 million care workers in the European Union who have been exposed to the virus as care-workers, and 76 per cent of them were women.
There has been an increase in job insecurity for women. There are more than 30 per cent of women in the EU working part time or flexi time, and a large number of these jobs are in the informal economy, so they have few rights as well. They have little or no health protection.
So these women were more likely to take time off to care for their children and for the elderly. And the role of caregiving for both the elderly, relatives, children fell to them. Women were impacted disproportionately. And of course, we’ve seen the escalation of violence against women due to those quarantine and lockdowns, levels that we as gender specialists find alarming.”
Worse still, women have been treated as unpaid labour throughout the pandemic, Papastavrou notes.
“Part of the unpaid care work has been seen as a female responsibility, that it’s an integral part of women’s work. So women spend on average three to six hours on unpaid care activities, while men spend half an hour to two hours,” she adds.
“Many women have been impacted by challenging conditions which have affected their mental health.
We have women that have had to either leave their job or work from home while taking care of their children; they have had to take over the primary caregiver role, become teachers, and then work remotely or just give up their careers. Women are also their nurses on the home, they played the role of keeping their children and their families safe, and also their communities safe. And that has been a huge impact on women, the need to supply all this unpaid labour. It has driven many into anxiety and depression.
Worst of all, there are women who are survivors of domestic violence who have been quarantined with their perpetrator – imagine the effect on these persons’ mental health.”
In Cyprus, there is still too much unpaid labour shared out to relatives and the elderly, Papastavrou points out.
“For women in Cyprus, we have very specific communities that are outsourcing care work, to domestic labour, to domestic workers, and those domestic workers are predominantly women. This has increased gender inequality during lockdown. If women are working from home, and those women are are outsourcing child care, to a domestic worker or childcare provider, this kind of work has always been dependent on unpaid relatives and the elderly. So we actually have on the island a history of unpaid labour and care that has been normalised. Of course, this is true in many other countries as well.”
What is different in Cyprus, says Papastavrou, is that we have access to lower paid labour for domestic work. We need to remove the barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the workforce and in the economy. We need access to affordable high quality childcare, and there should be a plan in place to establish a childcare system that is inclusive, that can provide a system that is accessible to vulnerable women, single women, single women, parents, migrant women, but that permits proper participation in the labour force for caregivers.
“The current system is built on sand.”
Papastavrou calls for funding for organisations within our communities that support and help women to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. I mean domestic violence, child support services, social services, women’s organisations on the ground, LGBTQ communities – all the organisations on the ground that are helping women who face a form of discrimination. And also women living with disabilities who are underrepresented as group.