Mary-Jo Hill

25 Feb 2021
The pandemic is a huge reminder of the unequal position women still hold in society, which is clearly reflected by many households.

Data points out something that women know to be true since the first lockdown in March 2020: women are one of the most affected. Dolly Parton‘s 9-5 song was released in 1980. Over 40 years ago. The gender gap still exists, even at home, even at the executive board level. From the lowest paid to the highest-paid, there is still some way to go. This week research shows the gap as it stands even at the top level. The need for continual insistence on more meaningful corporate responsibility in business to ensure greater diversity at the board level is still relevant, necessary and more pertinent than ever.

A few weeks ago we all laughed with incredulity, ( I even shared it on my Twitter profile) at the government advertisement incentivizing the public to ‘Stay Home and Save Lives’. It depicted women locked in houses doing ‘women chores’ like cleaning, home-schooling the kids, and taking care of the baby. It felt like a bad joke. Only one household featured a man, and he was just sitting on the couch, holding his, we can assume, wife. Sexist at its most, just plain ignorant at best. This ad would be comical if it did not reveal the difficult reality about the lockdown. Women are, have been, and will continue to be one of the sectors of society the most affected by the large and ranging implications of Covid, healthcare, care and lockdown.

It’s (mostly) all women

Data shows that 67% of women declare themselves to be the main responsible adult for homeschooling, with three in four mums (72%) saying they are to be the ‘default’ parent during lockdown. As a result, 53% of women reported struggling with their mental health, against 45% of men.

This scenario can be read in two different ways. First, it is good to know that fathers are getting more involved in homeschooling and child care. However, women are most often still the main carers, the ones handling the household, the cooking, the cleaning, the kids and, in addition to that, they are also working from home now too. It is more than a double shift. It is a 24/7 commitment. And, the sexist government ad shows that this reality is broadly acknowledged and accepted by many of those in power.

Homeschooling is hard

Homeschooling is hard. The kids are affected by it. More than we care to admit are not that happy or motivated. They miss the experience of being at school. They miss their friends and the happiness and struggles of socialization. At the end of the day, the entire household is affected by lockdown, but, as a reflex of a deeply unequal society, women are getting the hardest end of the stick.

We have a teacher workforce that is largely female. In 2019, data showed that 75.8% of school teachers in the UK were women. One of my most memorable Lockdown CPD zooms, run by WomenEd was the existing and real discrepancies still facing our female leaders and headteachers today in relation to pay. I felt humbled by my ignorance that this was really still a thing in the UK, in 2021. And it almost beggars belief that I cannot remember the last secretary of State for Education that was female. Please do remind me. Take a moment to have a look at the long list of Secretaries of State for Education. Very few women. Such short tenures. The last three managed barely over a year in the post in role. Does that make it a role or a job or a stepping stone?

The light at the end of the tunnel

This week, the government announced the road map out of lockdown and back to ‘normalcy’. Schools will reopen soon after half-term (nine school days and counting) and things are seen to be slowly falling back into place. With that, at least the homeschooling responsibility will be lifted away from (mostly) mothers, which is already a relief for millions of women in the UK. And yet, we know that the transition may well be harder. Getting everyone up and out, breakfasted and in uniform is not going to be easy for all, even for many. Maybe just a few. And then we are left with mums with lost jobs. The urgency of addressing the gender inequalities remain as pertinent as ever.

The pandemic is a huge reminder of the unequal position women still hold in society, which is clearly reflected by many households. Something that appears easy to overlook.