I am reasonably privileged. Not in an “I don’t have to work way.” But in a roof over my head, food on the table, wifi working, and kids in good schools way. So are most of the women in my community.
We are also now basically in an informal quarantine, as are many other women around the world. Schools in our country will close from Sunday and my children’s school will implement distance learning. My children’s school is well-prepared. I am not.
Don’t get me wrong. I started preparing professionally two weeks ago. I was traveling for work and had a little too much time alone in my room watching CNN, watching the virus spread beyond China. I began developing contingency plans for our clients and thinking through risks and mitigation strategies for my company.
As much as I’ve worked to ready my business, I have not prepared my home. As the news of the closure spread through school WhatsApp groups, fathers were quiet. Mothers had a range of responses.
- How am I going to homeschool my kids? I have a newborn.
- This is why I tell my husband I can’t work.
- So am I meant to bring my children to work with me?
My husband is quite capable with our children. He looks after them when I travel for work. But his response is to wait and be told what to do — by me, by the school, by other parents. Since going back to work, I have enabled this. It’s not his fault.
In the meantime, I have organized a neighborhood group of moms to help each other with various things. I’ve committed to staying home on Mondays and to have a group of my children’s classmates over for homework help, a hands-on project, and some pizza. Another mom has offered art classes. Another has offered to organize some football/soccer matches in the park. I’ve thought through our grocery list and am placing the order today. We will need more snacks, some easy food like box mac-n-cheese, and extra juice pouches. I’ll work with my boys this weekend to set a schedule for their days during the week. And I will work from home when possible.
I have it relatively easy. What happens to the single, working moms (and dads) in my community? Many will not be able to work from home and very few have family here. What happens to the dual-income families without a helper? What happens to the mothers (and fathers) who are teachers — expected to both teach their students online and ensure that their own children are looked after and learning?
And this is the impact on those of us who are reasonably privileged. Women in hourly or shift work face even more uncertainty.
Globally, women’s participation in the workforce follows a U-shape based on GPD per capita. Women are more likely to work in affluent, stable societies with support for working mothers — and in societies where their work is necessary for family survival. As COVID-19 closures affect begin to affect countries in the middle and to the right side of the U, stability will decrease. And the cost-benefit analysis families make regarding workforce participation will be affected.
Some women will give up their jobs in the face of an extended school closure. Some will lose their jobs as the economy further slows. Some may go back to work, others may not. And the effect on society could be significant. Women who work contribute positively to their country’s productivity levels and GDP; they are also more likely to invest in the health and education of their families. The impact of a dollar earned by a mother is different from the impact of a dollar earned by a father.
Yet, as many of us struggle to support our children during school closures, we are learning how very tenuous our participation in the workforce is.