The Curious Case of Working Mothers, And How Covid-19 Could Derail Their Future

Covid-19 has created havoc in the lives of working mothers, and has the real potential to derail women's progress in the workplace, says this author. 

Covid-19 has created havoc in the lives of working mothers, and has the real potential to derail women’s progress in the workplace, says this author. 

Juggling between more stuff than ever before? Don’t worry, it is the case in the present troubled times, for the majority of women throughout the world. The world which apparently is made by women, but not for them or of them.

COVID-19 has played the role of pushing working women further down. The extent of the havoc is far wider in its scope when it comes to working mothers, especially those with toddlers.

Although the answers to the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of this statement could be turned into a 250-page book, let us try and understand the matter, at the least on the surface level.

Our workload has quadrupled

It is a fact that COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown have quadrupled a woman’s workload – working or not – rather, salaried or not.  But, when it comes to working mothers, the situation is even more pathetic. They are the ones who have a glorified past of being qualified and financially independent.

However, they somehow sailed through the initial hitches due to marriage and subsequent pregnancies. Now when these working mothers were working towards consolidating themselves to shape their future, COVID-19 happened. And it has only pushed back them further.

COVID-19 didn’t just bring the extended closure of day-care and play schools, it also brought in the apprehension of exposing children to the outside world. This outside world encompasses the nannies too, who, due to COVID-19 had to be sent on an indefinite leave. (P.S: Because, not everyone could have afforded or for that matter preferred to have a 24*7 live-in nanny.)

Who is a gender sensitive employer?

These questions become more pertinent when we consider the policies of even the so called ‘gender sensitive’ companies. These companies too do not leave a stone unturned to make their female workforce feel ‘honoured’ and ‘obliged’. These obligations, interestingly, start with the appointment letter, to granting marriage leave, to allowing the maternity break, to letting the women come back from the maternity break, to giving them promotions and increment after the maternity or career break, and the obligations never cease to exist.

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The crux of the matter lies in the following questions for workplaces with female employees:

  • Will the Work from Home when lifted from offices still be allowed for these women aka the working mothers? Would they be allowed to have the system in place for a slightly more extended period?
  • In the absence of their husbands, (who would be forced to attend their offices physically), when they would be tossed around between child care, household chores and office works, would the offices be generous enough to adjust their virtual calls/meetings?

The possible answers to these questions which oscillates between Yes or No is quite decisive for the working mothers’ workforce. If the answers stand at No, then unfortunately, COVID 19 which is already raising the unemployment rate exponentially worldwide, will result in the pie of women (a majority of them mothers) being unemployed swelling up substantially.

Until April 2020, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 27 million youth in the age group of 20-30 years lost their jobs in April. International Labour Organization (ILO) research for that matter suggests many factors that influence a woman’s decision and inability to find/continue work. The situation outlined here could well become one of the prominent factors for the persisting gender gap in the unemployment rate that would continue to enlarge and womenfolk would continue to face additional barriers as compared to men when it comes to working.

Women entrepreneurs are at risk too!

It is time to talk about the self-dependent (aka atma-nirbhar) women especially when the PM of the country has hailed it loud and clear. Essentially, this group comprises of business entrepreneurs, including many home tutors and home chefs. These self-dependent women preferred being this way for reasons other than passion, such as the flexibility of taking care of their children/family, while being ‘engaged’ along with being considerably profitable.

In the current situation as narrated above, would these women entrepreneurs be able to go out for running the show, hold pertinent meetings for business development, and do strategic work to keep the wheels oiled? For instance, neither could the home tutors have children from outside come in for coaching, nor could the chefs have delivery guys coming in and out of their places – because all these pose an inherent threat to the women’s children and family at large.

In totality, being self-dependent aka atma-nirbhar, in the times of COVID19 seems much more tougher than is said or done, as with guts, planning, strategy and resilience, one also needs encouraging and favouring ecosystem to keep the work running.

For those in creative fields and working from home at the moment – would working mothers in such vocations be able to continue being efficient and productive? Absolutely not! In that case, they would either be laid off or be asked to produce at the maximum.

All these varied, myriad yet symmetrical factors would not just prevent working mothers from moving forward, but these have a strong potential of taking the working women back, so  much so that coming out to traverse the way again would take a lot more time than ever envisaged.

To add a little more spice to the burn of these working mothers are the disoriented children at home doing online classes during the period. A majority of these children, unfortunately, have no one else, other than their mothers as their attentive classmates. While some might think that the mothers are gaining new insights into their children’s schooling during the lockdown – it is definitely making life trickier for educators and the mothers alike. A statistical estimate from UNESCO states that more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries find themselves outside the classroom, compromising learning outcomes and the academic calendar.

The decline in the female workforce from over 35% to 25% between 2004 and 2011 is already not just alarming, but a clear indication that going forward in the next ten years, women would either have to fight to not get pregnant, or they would prefer sons over daughters because they would definitely not want another woman to face the same apathy.

The vicious circle of women/working mothers and their work-life balance needs a serious re-jig. It must be seen, fathomed and regulated well in order to create a virtuous circle of their lives. Otherwise, the pie comprising of this group of working women would soon be one of the highest when it comes to being a depressed, disgruntled and anxiety stricken species.

Image via Pexels

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About the Author

Sumana Khan

Writer/Contributor/Author at The Hindu, Deccan Herald, The Huffington Post India, Youth ki Awaaz, FirstPost. Blogs at Sumana can be followed on twitter @IamSumanaKhan. read more...

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