The following is an article by Zeenath Shakir, who works for the Integrated Governance Programme of UNDP in the Maldives, and is part of a series of articles by UNDP Maldives.
The 2019 Coronavirus has brought the whole world to a halt. Several countries have closed workplaces, schools and universities. This was quickly followed by the shut-down of restaurants and shops, and enforcement of curfews. Authorities have appealed for the public to remain indoors and maintain physical and social distancing. Amidst such rapid changes in the society, it is worthwhile to explore the impacts on the diverse roles that women play during these trying times.
For generations it has been culturally acceptable for men to participate in the public sphere while women’s roles are restricted to the private/household sphere. Several studies conducted in the Maldives have revealed that women are encouraged to take up roles such as child rearing and household responsibilities. Despite the development of legal frameworks and institutional structures to achieve gender equality globally and in the Maldives, several obstacles remain to achieve this goal.
In the present situation amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, taking care of children, attending to household responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning, stocking food, taking care of the elderly, and, if they are working in the formal employment sector, attending to their work from home, are among the many things women have to do every day. As a result, this makes the economic hardship of this pandemic even more immeasurable for women, especially those without a social support system. As their burden of care increases, and their livelihoods suffer losses, such disease outbreaks also divert resources away from services that women need. Due to the huge household burden they undertake, it is bound to have negative implications on their physical and mental health as well.
Crises exacerbates gender inequality. All crisis response must be gender responsive. Efforts to change assigned gendered roles and reduce the current burden on women is a matter that needs to be addressed by policy makers, government and the whole community. At an individual level, we should all recognize and appreciate the work women perform and ponder ways on helping to alleviate the burden of responsibility and care within the household. Following are some of the things we can keep in mind during this time.
1. With schools being closed, children at home can get restless; hence, keeping them occupied with indoor activities and playing an equal role in childcare can ease women's household burden. Helping children learn a new knowledge or skill at home can help keep them engaged during this time. The internet is a great resource with many activities and tools to conduct at home with children.
2. Assisting in household chores such as cooking, and laundry can be a chance for both men and women to equally participate in household activities. This will also demonstrate positive parenting among children and other household members.
3. Spend time with the elderly. Pre COVID-19 crisis, for many of us, our lives have been so hectic and busy that we did not get to spend enough time with elderly. Take this opportunity to care for them at home.