Women’s care during lockdown ‘constant and exhausting’
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2020
“The emotional needs of both my daughter and my partner and my mother are constant and very exhausting.”
“Before this it was a struggle but I was managing. Now, I am honestly at breaking point.”
“I am currently expected to continue my 38 hours full-time job, as well as home-school two children in different classes. I am a lone parent, so I have to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, nurturing and listening with absolutely no help, as everyone is banned from my life right now. It’s beyond stressful.”
“I’m a Traveller woman and caring for my elderly parents and relatives… COVID has frightened them and restricted them so their mental health and well-being has suffered. They are cocooning… It has placed a lot of stress on me. My reserves are beyond depleted.”
“We are a one-parent family with no extended family in Ireland…If I was to get sick requiring hospital where would [my 10-year-old daughter] go?”
Quotes from women who participated in NWC’s Women’s Experiences of Caring during COVID-19 online survey, May 2020.
The National Women’s Council (NWC) today called on the Government to tackle Ireland’s care crisis on foot of its report Women’s Experiences of Caring during COVID-19 online survey which is being launched today (10th November).
The report provides a snapshot of women’s experiences of providing informal, unpaid care during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. It shows how women faced significant levels of additional stress and anxiety as the pandemic aggravated already existing gender inequalities in the sharing of caring responsibilities. More than 1,400 women took part in the online survey between 15th – 22nd May 2020. Respondents included women who were working from home, women working on the frontline and women engaged in full-time care.
Unequal distribution of care responsibilities
71.5% of women surveyed were looking after children, adults, or both in their own home. 85% said their caring responsibilities had increased during lockdown. Many women living with another adult reported caring was not shared equally in their household, with the ‘lion’s share’ falling to them.
Orla O’Connor, Director of NWC said,
“Our report highlights what women told us about the enormous pressures, stress and anxiety they experienced during the first lockdown. In many homes across the country, women were the primary person caring for the household. Many women were juggling full time care to children at home and/or care for older adults while doing their paid work from home or on the frontline. Confined to their own household, lone parents experienced significant difficulties. As the country has entered a second lockdown, we must ensure we learn from these experiences and clearly address the effect of the pandemic on women’s care work, women’s paid employment and on women’s wellbeing.
While there are some positive measures that will benefit women in the current lockdown, such as the introduction of bubbles and the fact that schools and childcare facilities are open, it is imperative that the Government takes urgent action to address the care crisis in our country. We need to significantly develop our public caring infrastructure, including public and affordable childcare, universal mental health services, universal social care services and better provision of paid family and care leave. “
Impact on mental health and wellbeing
NWC’s report highlights the impact of the pandemic on women’s mental health with 55% of women surveyed saying they had less time for their mental health and wellbeing. Many of the things women had relied on to look after their own wellbeing pre-COVID-19, including socialising with friends and having time to themselves (often during their commute), were no longer possible due to health restrictions and increased caring responsibilities.
Cliona Loughnane, Women’s Health Coordinator with NWC said,
“Many women told us they were feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It is really important that we consider the impact of gender inequality, in particular care responsibilities, on women’s mental health. We need mental health services that understand these impacts and provide adequate supports in the community. This must include access to counselling in the community, services that support women’s caring roles and trauma informed services.
As part of the national conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, we need to acknowledge the different experiences women have had during the pandemic which have impacted women’s wellbeing. The Government must measure and report on the mental health impact of the pandemic across the whole population, and in a way that includes data on women and women from groups that face additional barriers such as Traveller and Roma women, women living in direct provision and women experiencing homelessness.”
For more information, please contact Silke Paasche, Head of Communications, National Women’s Council (NWC), Tel. 085 858 9104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editor:
The National Women’s Council of Ireland conducted an online survey (15th -22nd May 2020), via SurveyMonkey. The survey sought to capture the experiences of women providing informal, unpaid care during COVID-19. The report documents the responses of 1,416 women. As not all respondents completed every question, a number of the figures given in the report are based upon responses from fewer than 1,416 women.
Key findings of NWC’s Women’s Experiences of Caring during COVID-19 online survey
62% of women surveyed were employed and 12% were full-time homemakers. 9% were self-employed. Others recorded they were unemployed or furloughed, retired, students, or unable to work due to a disability or illness. Of the women who were employed or self-employed, 21% were essential workers.
85% of women said their caring responsibilities had increased during lockdown. 52% said their caring had increased ‘a lot’; 33% said their caring had increased ‘a little’; 15% ‘not at all’.
55% of women said they had less time for their mental health and wellbeing. (22% ‘same amount of time’; 23% ‘more time than usual’).
Providing care to others
71.5% of women surveyed were caring for children, adults, or both in their own home.
Of those women who were caring for others in their own home (987 women), the majority (87%) were caring for children; 8% were caring for adults (e.g. older person, adult with a disability); and 5% were caring for both.
31% of women were providing care for adults outside their home.
Of those women who were caring for others outside their own home (427 women), 79% were caring for an older person; 13% were caring for an adult with an illness or disability; and 8% were caring for both.
A significant number of women were caring for others both in their own home and in another’s home. 987 women were providing care to children, adults or both in their own home, and of those, 316 (32%) were also providing care in another’s home.
A large proportion of women were managing their own paid work, care for children and/or care for other adults:
1,002 women reported being employed or self-employed.
Of these women, 649 were caring for children in their own home; 44 for adults in their own home; and 31 for both.
251 were caring for an older person outside the home; 38 for an adult with illness or disability outside the home; 27 for both.
Women reported added pressures of childcare with the closure of schools and childcare during COVID-19; the loss of formal supports, such as support services for disabled people and homecare for older adults; and loss of informal care supports previously provided by grandparents and others.
Women parenting alone felt particularly under pressure. Many lone mothers had to look after children, provide home-schooling, manage the household, check in on older relatives and work to financially support their families, all without support.
Women offered tangible suggestions of what would support their mental health and wellbeing, including: childcare (especially for frontline workers); supports for new mothers; state supports for carers of older people; social care supports for disabled people; access to affordable counselling; outdoor space; and increased support from their partner.
Women raised a number of concerns about how COVID-19 was impacting on women and on society more generally, including: the lack of women in COVID-19 decision-making positions; concerns for women experiencing violence during lockdown; fears about the country’s economic future and the impact of COVID-19 on women’s economic equality; the challenges of informal caring as a frontline worker; and the opportunity presented by the pandemic to restructure society and how we support care across society.