Covid -19 and Impacts on Women!
A case study analyzing the burden of Unpaid Chores on Women, Gender roles, and their Physical and Mental wellbeing.
This case study is intended to analyze the impact of lockdown due to coronavirus, on women and the increase in unpaid household chores. Traditionally women are bound to various roles and the amount of unpaid work done by women has always been unrecognizable. After the declaration of lockdown, with families locked under one roof, offices, and schools shut, the amount of unpaid chores has increased. Simultaneously sanitation, cleaning, and social distancing have further added to the unpaid chores. From the perspective of gender roles, physical and mental wellness, the lockdown has only added to the worsening of the situation. There has been an unfair distribution of chores from time immemorial, which is engraved in the subconscious of Indian society. Through this case study, we will further check if the education and enlightenment of men and women are successful in revisiting the inappropriate distribution of chores. And what impact does lockdown exercise over them? With gender roles, we will also be analyzing the impact and awareness on the physical and mental wellbeing of women.
To begin with, the government’s proposed lockdown plan as a pandemic control measure entails a clear gender dimension, where an increased domestic workload will be disproportionately borne by women. In India, predominant social norms and the existing structure of the workforce put the responsibility of running the household on women, which includes the obligation of attending to and caring for each family member. Besides, women are also likely to be responsible for carrying out daily household chores such as mopping, dishwashing, and cleaning. The men given India’s patriarchal context, are not expected to perform any household tasks. . As per the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an Indian woman does nearly six hours of unpaid work each day in comparison to an Indian male who barely gives 51.8 minutes to such tasks.The impacts of the lockdown have been disruptive and changed how humans perform their daily activities and go about their routine lives. Such impact has however not been the same across all social groups, with the most vulnerable and marginalized groups being affected differently due to the already existing social inequalities. 
Women’s unpaid work subsidizes the cost of care that sustains families, supports economies, and often fills in for the lack of social services. Yet, it is rarely recognized as “work”. Unpaid care and domestic work are valued to be 10 and 39 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and can contribute more to the economy than the manufacturing, commerce, or transportation sectors.
The case study follows a qualitative approach. The primary data is collected in two phases. Firstly, a survey form is circulated among women hailing from urban and semi-urban areas. The objective of the survey is to understand the patterns of household chores and how their family members responded to chores during the time of lockdown. Also analyzed their response to physical and mental health during the lockdown and in general. For the second phase, a direct interview with the participants of the survey is conducted to understand why they answered in a certain manner and how their educational status and their spouse’s qualification have changed the course of how they distribute chores among themselves.
- The first set of questions is related to the demographics namely the city or state they belong to, the age group, and their employability status. The intention is to understand how the response patterns to chores can change when measured between various age groups and geographical areas.
Geographical Area- Mostly women hailed from semi-urban cities (55%), the rest (45%) belonged to urban cities namely Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore.
Age Group — Most women were of the age group (25–30) while the lowest percentage remains for the women above 45.
Employability — Around 60% of women were Homemakers.
2. Another set of questions dealt with the hours they spend on household chores i.e. the unpaid chores. Further questions ask about if their family members help them out and more specifically who helped them. This question is important to understand gender roles in the family.
Support Status — Majorly depending on situations i.e. sometimes (around 50%). This implies the burden is shared according to preferences and hence not everyone in the family is responsible.
Distribution of Contribution- Major part constitutes female members like daughter, mother-in-law, sister-in-law (if any). While equal contribution by all the family members lacks. i.e only (12.7%).
3.The other set of questions dealt with the physical and mental well-being of women. The questions tried to analyze how frequently they have had a conversation about it with their family members and are they comfortable and aware of it.
A conversation about Mental/Physical Wellbeing — Sadly, 18.5% of women don’t feel it’s important. While the other 9% never talk about it.
While from the below pie chart, it’s clear that women are not sure if they should be talking about their personal mental health, which constitutes 45%.
Backed with a telephonic interview(in Hindi) of the women, here I am sharing my findings and the compound results-
Increase in the burden of Unpaid Chores of Women :
Ultimately, the burden was increased more for women than men. Due to lockdown, their working hours in the kitchen were increased and also more time was consumed in dishwashing, cleaning due to lack of domestic help and also due to the presence of all the family members at home. Also for sanitation measures, extra time was spent on washing clothes and proper sanitation of the house.
Sangeeta, a 29-year-old homemaker, who is a mother to two daughters says,
“ My husband is mostly occupied by office work and both the daughters too are busy with their online classes. My daughters lived away from home before the lockdown for their studies so now we are four members at home. Since they all are busy they hardly get time to involve in household chores, and I am a housewife, so this is anyways my responsibility to manage chores. Apart from it we love eating out but as the restrictions didn’t allow so I had to cater to everyone’s demands. Well, cooking isn’t really the problem but the work associated afterward like I will have to wash dishes multiple times, clean up everything is the tiring task.”
Impact of Work From Home and Online Education: (Employed women)
Around 40% of women were employed. So they told me managing both work and chores was difficult. Most of them (approx 30%) were supported by their spouse, like preparing food while they were in the conference. Also sometimes their spouse helped them with cleaning and dishwashing. They told because of lockdown their spouse’s contribution to chores has increased unless it’s not the scenario mostly.
In terms of Online Education, women are told that they are supposed to sit with their young ones in online classes. While for children above 10 years of age, it wasn’t important to sit with them but they do check up on them in intervals. They mostly shared these responsibilities with their spouse.
Impact of Work From Home and Online Education: (Homemakers)
The lockdown only added in more working hours while their kids and spouse were busy with their work. Preparing the extra cups of tea and coffee and being vigilant of not making any noises and more such tasks have added up due to lockdown.
Amrita, 33 years old homemaker, dance teacher, and mother to an 8 years old shared her experience like -
“ I teach dance, I run my classes from home but since lockdown, I haven’t been able to do so. My husband is an IT employee, so he is most of the time busy and my little one has online classes but it’s usually me who has to attend his class and later make him understand, children cant sit quietly in front of the screens. My husband does help me whenever he gets a chance to do so.”
Gender Role Analysis:
By analyzing the survey response and the interviews, the findings suggest that its a belief that men are not responsible for household chores. Women on the other hand are liable for all the work. Men can choose between helping or not helping. But women don’t have the liberty to choose. If domestic help is not available, they will have to manage all the work. Some help and some don’t, the share of responsibilities is done according to the availability of time in case of working men and women.
While homemakers, don’t really seek help, they treat involving themselves in chores as their primary task. While another argument by housewives was that their family members don’t have the habit of working hence they take longer hours to complete the task.
Sumidha, a 47 years old homemaker and mother to 3 kids, says;
“I have distributed some task among my 3 kids, I don’t believe in the idea that boys shouldn’t be cooking or doing laundry, because I never saw my mother doing this. I have two daughters and one son. My daughters are elder so they sometimes teach my son how to cook and I must say he has learned to prepare some delicious dishes during the lockdown. So my three kids get involved in whatever chores they want to, maybe cleaning, mopping, etc.. They make sure they help me out and if any one of them has any assignments to complete or some other work, so the other two make sure to help me out.”
Inferences from Gender Role Analysis:
1. Since homemakers/housewives are not involved in any income-generating activities, the chores managing becomes the sole duties of the women.
2. The upbringing and atmosphere of the family decide if men should be involved in unpaid chores.
3. In terms of urban areas, where both spouses are involved in income-generating sharing the load becomes the responsibility of both.
4. Moreover, the involvement of men is subjective. In most cases, it’s about realization and their own awareness.
Conclusion: The way Ahead
From the perception of gender sensitization, the findings suggest that pre-imposed values, self-realization, and awareness can help in bridging the gap between gender roles. Well, none of the women complained about their sons or husbands not helping them with the chores but actually considered it as their duty, because they were told so and that’s what applicable in society, and that’s what their mother and grandmother have done. It’s the duty of both the parents to make their sons and daughter aware of the gender roles and tell them that chores have no gender, there should be equal share. Children adapt according to their surroundings so parents should make sure to create a healthy environment.
The other aspect of the study is focused on the physical and mental wellbeing of women. In the case of housewives, the idea of mental wellbeing is hardly considered. In fact, families are not really comfortable talking about it. Approximately half of the women were not all involved in the conversation about mental health. We must create a favorable environment in our homes to let our family members talk about it openly and without hesitation.
The name of the interviewees has been changed for maintaining anonymity and privacy.
1. Akanksha Khullar, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Delhi, (2020), Gender analysis missing from India’s coronavirus strategy. (https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/gender-analysis-missing-from-india-s-coronavirus-strategy-823349.html)
2. Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), (2019)
3. Grown, C., & Sánchez-Páramo, C. (2020). The coronavirus is not gender-blind, nor should we be. World Bank Blog (https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/coronavirus-not-gender-blind-nor-should-we-be)
4. United Nations, Economic, and Social Council, (2016). Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, Report of the Secretary-General, E/CN.6/2017/3, December 2016. (https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/CN.6/2017/3