Women's careers on the line as lockdown regulations leave childcare unaccounted for
Across the globe, women earn less, hold less secure jobs and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector.
"Where will our nation's children be?" (Getty Images)
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A crisis situation, like a pandemic, tends to highlight existing inequalities - and often makes them worse.

As the South African lockdown and related uncertainties drags on, parents are finding it harder and harder to juggle work and childcare, and the uncertainty of schools and daycare facilities reopening puts additional strain on women, as they are often the ones - literally - left holding the baby.

Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector.

They make up the majority of single-parent households, and are less able to absorb economic shocks than men are.

This isn't just anecdotal, and according to the United Nations women's unpaid care work has increased in the pandemic, with school closures, older people needing more care, and health services less accessible. 

A policy brief called The Impact of Covid-19 on Women by the UN notes that such impacts risk rolling back the "already fragile gains made in female labour force participation, limiting women’s ability to support themselves and their families, especially for female-headed households".

The brief describes how the situation is worse in developing economies where a huge 70% of women’s employment is in the informal sector - an area with notoriously few protections against dismissal, or support for paid time off.

All this impacts the family as a whole

According to UNESCO, 1.52 billion students - that's 87% - stayed at home during Covid-19 school closures. 

With childcare options off the table, the demand for unpaid childcare falls more heavily on women, not only because of the existing structure of the workforce, but also because of social norms, UNESCO reported

This limits their ability to work, particularly when jobs cannot be carried out remotely, and is particularly problematic for essential workers with children that need care.

"Jobless fairly soon"

As the South African economy begins to open, but schools and childcare facilities stay firmly closed, more and more families are facing the reality of one parent being forced to give up their job. 

And since women very often earn less, if it comes down to it she will take the hit. 

Mom Elda wrote to say "You can't open up the economy without schools and care services operating. I depend on those services to enable me to go to work. What are we supposed to do with our children?" 

A single mom told us that she is facing pressure from work to come in, which she can't do at the moment. "I think I will be looking at being jobless fairly soon," she said.

Mom and teacher Nofoto wrote to tell us she is a 46 year old educator who is diabetic. 

"At this current moment I am anxious and scared of returning to school now while there is no vaccine and the virus hasn't peaked yet. I would prefer to resign and stay home with my kids, rather than to go into a lion's den."

Another working mom wrote to tell us she has no idea how to manage full time remote working with a three year old at home and a 4 month old baby.

Who is caring for our nation's children?

Mom Susan asked Parent24 "who is caring for our nation's children from 1 June when millions of parents return to work?"

"Are we about to perpetrate a gross violation of children's right to safety and supervision? How many employers will make allowances for parents with childcare responsibilities?"

"Mine won't. I've asked, pleaded, shouted. It is not their problem."

There appears to be an 'oversight' in the government's planning, she wrote, as they did not foresee the situation, "and our youngest and most vulnerable will fall into the gap unless a solution is found and a bridge is rapidly constructed".

No respite in sight

Parent24 has contacted the Department of Social Development (DSD), which oversees Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs), but the official message is still that "the National DSD is yet to announce the dates of when ECDs are to reopen."

The UN recommends expanding childcare support for working parents where schools, childcare and respite care services are closed, with a particular focus on safe and accessible services for essential workers. 

Several countries used this approach while enduring lockdown, and in some, like New Zealand and Australia, the costs of this specific childcare where subsidised by the government.

Some operators are calling for daycare and aftercare facilities to be allowed to open for children of essential workers, at least, but for now it seems this call is falling on deaf ears.

How are you handling childcare in your home. Dads, we want to hear from you too! 

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