The nexus between COVID-19 and unpaid care work

Accra, June 23, GNA - It started many miles away in late 2019, at Wuhan, China, but in matter of few months the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.

The Genesis of the Virus
Since then, it has spread to more than two hundred countries and territories across the globe, infecting over eight million people.

Of the total infected, 454,513 have succumbed to the virus, according to the COVID-19 John Hopkins dashboard.

The worse hit countries are; china, where it emerged, Italy, Spain, United States of America and the United Kingdom.

The Ghanaian situation
Locally, since the confirmation of the first cases imported from Norway and Turkey in March the rate of infection has surged to almost 15, 000 confirmed case as of June 23. Following that, the state took to contain the pandemic including; a ban on public gathering, closure of schools, religious activities, funerals as well as institution of social distancing protocols.

Many cases are currently managed at health centres and in some instances isolation and quarantine are done at homes, coupled with schools’ closure, the need to procure bulk food items to reduce the frequency of shopping for family consumption as well the risk of contamination, which was not planned for, brought hardships to poor families, single and non-income earning parents especially women with high burden of care work at home.

Unpaid Care workers
The burden of unpaid care work within this period at home has increased drastically due to some of the factors mentioned.

Unpaid Care work refers to all “unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including; care of persons, housework and voluntary community work (Elson, 2000).

”These actions are believed to be work, because hypothetically one would pay a third person to perform them. It is also Unpaid because the individual or group performing this activity (s) is not rewarded; Care because the activity offers what is important for the health, well-being and general maintenance of someone, families and communities.

It also regarded as work because the activity involves mental or physical effort and is costly in terms of time-use.”

The burden of care work has increased exponentially because, daily wage care work givers who used to commute on daily or weekly basis to work for income have lost that opportunity, the restriction on travel and movement made others unable to arrange for alternative means of support due to the fear of getting contaminated with the virus.

This compelled working mothers to juggle the stress of working from home, caring for children, cooking, cleaning and taking care of elderly in homes that have elderly people as well struggle to shop for family kitchens.

This may have a tall effect on girls and women who continue to observe partial lockdowns leading to domestic violence, accidents such as burns and create social problems even after COVID19 is wipe out.

Currently schools across the globe are closed aimed at halting the spread of the Corona virus, millions of children in rural communities and cities are mandated to stay home and this places a responsibility on mothers to do more.

Increased burden of care work
In Ghana and most parts of Africa where the nuclear family system is being practised amidst several effort geared towards women’s empowerment, there is a greater possibility of increase in the demand for care workers, thereby placing more restrictions on women to take formal paid work.

Some available data indicate that globally, more women work in the health and social sectors compared to men.

Examples are nurses, midwives and community health workers, while others are health facility service staffs such as cleaners, laundry workers and caterers.

Presumably, these women will be playing the role of frontline workers, which require longer working hours, combined with increased care work at home.

In some cases, the additional burden of longer hours of work placed on these women are not adequately compensated compared to their male counterparts playing similar roles.

The disproportion in income level adversely puts women in an economically disadvantage position.

Bridging the gender inequality gap between men and women in paid jobs also means taking steps to recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work and promoting decent work for care workers including; domestic workers.

The world at large has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the fact that, the world’s formal economies and the resilience to livelihoods are built on the invisible and unpaid labour of women.

The unseen economy dominated by most women especially those in rural communities indeed has real relationship on the formal economy.

As world fight the virus men and boys must make conscious effort to support women their every little way to reduce the burden on women by sharing some of the responsibilities at home to reduce the burden of unpaid care work.

In situations where there are other parents or care givers at home, one could negotiate childcare shifts. To further make the work easier at home, it will be advisable to create a schedule for time “on” and time “off” with other adults (including men) in the household.
We need to preach ” recognition and re-distribution of unpaid care work” alongside“ stay at home” since all family members are likely to be present to ensure the pressure from household chores is only on women and girls but share among men, and boys and those who are fit to work.

It is vital to use messaging like sharing is caring, care work is not women’s work, participate in doing unpaid care work, men who unpaid care work are champions to educate and sensitize boys and young men to understand gender roles and create a balance in time-use for both sexes for unpaid care work.

States and governments must realize that care work both in its professional terms (health care governance and delivery) and the invisible aspects of it is what is keeping the world in this trying moment and should begin to think of “new economics” one that does not just measure progress by GDP growth, ignoring planetary boundaries and making unpaid work visible and part of GDP.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the ‘new normal’ and as party parent should use the opportunity to bond, listen to their children and actively participate comprehensively in their growth.

Children will look to their parents for support and reassurance. Listening to children when they share their feelings, how they understand issues and how often they complain gives them a sense of security, assurance and comfort.

The writer is a Project Manager for Promoting Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) Project, Action Aid Ghana.