Recent research from Chwarae Teg has revealed the impact of Coronavirus on Women in Wales.
A survey conducted by the charity received more than 1,000 responses. Women shared their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, highlighting the impact it had on every aspect of their lives.
There is no universal experience of Covid-19 among women in Wales. The impact on women of colour, disabled women, and women on low incomes has been most significant due to their positions in work, their need to shield or higher risk of the virus, and their loss of income.
Most women shared common concerns, expressed about health and wellbeing, employment and financial security, family lives including care and home-schooling, and safety and wellbeing.
Throughout Covid-19, women are twice as likely to be key workers, more likely to be doing low-paid work on insecure contracts in sectors shut down by the virus, and at home, women were spending double the amount of time home-schooling than men.
The report found that furlough was a negative experience for women, leaving a substantial gap in women’s work-based identities. Only 33.6% of furloughed survey respondents believed they would return to their previous role.
One respondent said:
“I have gone from being a full-time working mum to now being a stay at home mum… and feel as though having work taken away from me makes me lose my identity as an individual and who I was before becoming a mum.”
There were also instances of women who declined to be furloughed – despite the help it would provide to balance childcare – for fears about their career progression, putting them under a great deal of pressure.
Women who were key workers throughout the pandemic were not always able to access appropriate, well-fitting PPE due to shortages and hierarchies of allocation, putting them at risk.
Women who were, or who became unemployed throughout the pandemic are deeply worried about their income, with the benefits system proving to be inflexible and unable to meet their needs. There is additional uncertainty for women on fixed-term or insecure contracts due to the precarious nature of employment at the moment.
One respondent highlighted her concerns around being a part-time worker:
“I am concerned that there will be redundancies in my workplace in the coming months and years… and that my role will be one of the first to go because it is part-time”.
Self-employed women were even less likely to access UK Government financial support than self-employed men. Accessing financial support for their businesses was particularly difficult for self-employed women who have been on maternity leave, or worked part-time in recent years.
However, the research did highlight some positives.
While experiences of working from home were mixed, women who were able to do so recognised that this protected them from the biggest health and economic risks of the pandemic. Many women also relished the benefits of working from home, particularly flexibility, and hope they will see a permanent shift in ways of working. Recovery from the pandemic poses an important opportunity to embed flexible and agile working.
Some women have also been encouraged to start or expand their own businesses throughout the crisis.
Chwarae Teg Chief Executive, Cerys Furlong said:
“This pandemic has both revealed the extent of gender inequality, and exacerbated it, with fatal consequences for many.
“The impact that this virus has had on women, particularly women of colour, was not inevitable. It is a direct result of the inequality that we have failed to address, and the structural barriers that we have failed to break down.
“Most of us have struggled throughout this crisis; to balance work and family life, with anxieties around our jobs and the condition of our loved ones. But it is those individuals and groups who were already in the most precarious positions in terms of their work, income and family lives who have suffered the most.
“The crisis has also revealed our society’s dependence on work that is disproportionately done by women; as unpaid carers for children and family members, and as employees within care, social work, hospitality, retail, cleaning and more. Women in these roles have been undervalued for too long, and as we rebuild from this crisis we need to revalue this work as central to our economy and our communities.
“We cannot continue to allow this inequality. We need a feminist and intersectional recovery from Covid-19. One that understands and is informed by diverse women’s experiences, and prioritises their needs as we build back better. We do not want a return to the status quo. We want to create a new normal, where women’s work and women’s experiences are central to decision-making.”
Further details and the full report can be viewed at: https://chwaraeteg.com/research/covid19-women-work-wales/