International Women’s Day is intended to celebrate the achievements of women and also to draw attention to the issues of parity that still need to be addressed.
This last year has been difficult for most of us, men and women. And yet there is no denying that the circumstances around Covid and lockdown have created a particular set of difficulties for women in our society.
For several different reasons, women have been more likely to lose their jobs and their businesses in the last year. Last July the McKinsey Global Institute published a detailed article around the impact of Covid19 on gender equality and noted-
"Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women." (McKinsey Global Institute, 15 July, 2020)
Caring for sick relatives. Prioritising the mental health of children. The list goes on. And additionally, the need for children to be homeschooled during lockdown has meant that many women have had to add the role of teacher to the list.
In Oct 2020, the BBC quoted Ariane Hegewisch who leads the Employment and Earnings programme at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in the US as saying-
"The real danger at the moment is that people are starting to associate women with childcare more strongly than before."
Women have fought hard for their position in the workplace, not always on an individual level but the structures that have been created to provide paid maternity leave and advances in wage equality have been strides forward for the better. And yet for many of us, this last year has felt like a return to the gender inequality of decades ago.
The impact of this shift on the self esteem of those women whose identity is tied to their performance in the workplace as well as to their role as a mother, daughter etc, needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
The mental well-being of women matters. It is important. Doing the jobs that often go unseen and unrecognised requires mental resilience and an ongoing ability to self validate. Just as important however, are skills of self assertion and determination.
It is true that when it comes to Covid and lockdown- This Too Shall Pass. But when it passes, how will that look for many women?
Now more than ever, this is a time to take care of your mental well-being. A time to remember that taking care of your own mental health is just as important as taking care of the people you love.
International Women’s Day tends to produce a flurry of photographs citing- “the top one hundred”, or “the ten most powerful” women in the world. But in my opinion, the female heroes of this year are those keeping their families together, in whatever shape that might be; those who have continued to care for others despite needing some care themselves; those fighting to hold on to their businesses and work life and those standing up for themselves and saying enough is enough.